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Managing Children’s Expectations: A Key To Happy Holidays

Creighton and LaForge have other tips for parents with concerns about managing their children’s holiday expectations. Creighton recommends the following.

  • Communicate your economic limitations: Be honest about your family’s economic circumstances with children. Decide how much you can spend on each child’s gifts. Give the child that amount in play money to “shop” in a toy catalog. This can help the child understand how difficult it is to make choices, as well as how far a certain amount of money goes in meeting expectations.
  • Encourage the child to prioritize: If a child’s wish list is lengthy, ask for an indication of the one or two top choices. This is a good time to discuss why each toy is on the child’s list and gain an understanding of each one’s play value from the child’s perspective.
  • Research alternatives for requested items: Children often request certain items by brand name because they are more highly advertised, but often identical or similar items are available and will meet the same needs. The child may experience momentary disappointment that the gift is not exactly what was requested, but if it’s an item that has a similar play value, the disappointment will be fleeting.
  • Take advantage of the teachable moment disappointment offers: If you can’t find or afford a requested toy and your child expresses disappointment, use the opportunity to teach a life lesson. Share a time in your own life when you wanted something, but didn’t get it. Describe how you dealt with the situation and reassure them they will recover from their loss, as you have.

LaForge adds:

  • Promote problem solving: Problem-solving skills are important to the development of resilience in children. When children find out they aren’t going to receive something they want, encourage them to think about another gift that will make them happy or a later celebration for which they might request the same gift.
  • Emphasize honest gratitude: Even when children are disappointed in a gift, it’s important for them to learn how to be gracious recipients. Expressing gratitude so others’ feelings don’t get hurt is an element of social competence that can be refined even during this emotionally charged season.
  • Highlight the rewards of giving: Nothing lifts a child’s disappointment more quickly than being able to give a heartfelt gift to someone else. Shifting the emphasis from receiving to giving helps children see the exchange of presents from a new and different perspective.
Managing Children’s Expectations: A Key To Happy Holidays

Holly VanScoy, Ph.D

APA Reference
VanScoy, H. (2020). Managing Children’s Expectations: A Key To Happy Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.