Reining in Your Child’s Christmas Expectations

As director of the Stonebriar Preschool Pals program, I have the advantage of seeing the anticipation of Christmas build on the faces of our students. Their sweet voices of excitement echo down the halls as they share with their friends and teachers all they have experienced this holiday season. It is also not uncommon to hear students share their very detailed and lengthy Christmas wish list, and their nervous anticipation for Christmas Day.

When I was little, I was so excited when, during the Christmas season, this big, thick, and heavy catalog came in the mail. (I know, I just showed my age!) There were hundreds of pages of things to look at and dream about. My sister and I each had our own color we used to circle things on our wish list. I always had a lot of things on my list because there were so many pictures in the catalog.

The excitement of Christmas morning was almost unbearable! We would get up so early and want to go see the tree and begin unwrapping presents. Our house rule was that we couldn’t go see the presents until my parents were up and said it was okay. My parents never seemed to move fast enough on Christmas morning! Regardless, whether it is my students now, my own boys, or my past self, we all have one thing in common: high expectations set for a Christmas morning that in most situations is just not achievable.

Each one of us has our own set of expectations. We create our expectations by watching other people, by watching movies/TV shows/social media, and from recalling our own prior life experiences. In creating these expectations, we must be careful to keep them achievable and manageable. Most of us tend to create this almost Norman Rockwell-type mental picture of the perfect Christmas—our homes decorated like a magazine, children that always behave perfectly, having every item on our children’s wish list wrapped under the tree, and conflict/stress-free family time with relatives. It seems the retail industry has taken ownership of the Christmas season, constantly feeding us images of we want more, we need more, and it will be all perfectly wrapped and placed under the tree.

Now don’t get me wrongI love Christmas time! Christmas is my favorite holiday. The smells, the desserts, the musicit’s all just wonderful. I like that the Christmas lights make everything look prettier, the cold weather comes through, and people seem a little friendlier. The trouble is that we live in a place where the prevailing attitude is I should get what I want because I deserve it. A very scary sense of entitlement is prevalent. Feeling like you should be given everything you want, when you want it, no matter the cost builds very unrealistic expectations. It also sets us up to suffer big letdowns and disappointments when those expectations are not met. These letdowns can lead to different forms of venting, especially anger or depression.

As a parent, you get to make decisions about how, when, and what type of holiday rituals to celebrate in your home. Helping your children learn to rein in their expectations is critical to a happier and healthier holiday season. When our boys were little, my husband and I started the four present rule (you have probably heard this, but it is worth repeating):

  • Something you want
  • Something you need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

Applying a similar rule that matches your family’s interests establishes a safety net for your child’s expectations.

If your children are in their teens and their wish list gets smaller but significantly more expensive, it is a great time to talk about need vs. want. Do you need a new iPhone X, or does the one you have work fine?  Looking around the game rooms and bedrooms of our community, most of our children do not lack for stuff. This is the perfect time to add a fifth gift:

  • Something to give away

Changing expectations isn’t easy, but it is worth the effort you put into the change. Consider how you feel about different aspects of Christmas and make sure your expectations are reasonable and achievable. And most importantly, make sure they are in line with God’s Word.

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  2 Corinthians 9:8

Be willing to have reasonable expectations for yourself and your family about this Christmas season. God tells us to love one another in John 13:34; the best Gift of all was God’s love for us through His Son. This is a Gift we could never earn or be worthy of, yet God gave it to all of us because He loves each of us so much. See if this Gift can be your family’s focus for this season instead of shopping lists and stress.

We are so grateful to Kelley Wilkinson for taking the time to contribute today’s blog post. Kelley is Director of Preschool Pals here at Stonebriar Community Church. In addition to filling her days with preschoolers, parents, and teachers, she is the wife of Curtis and mother of three teenage boys. This broad experience, along with her certification as a teacher of Love and Logic® techniques, makes her a great resource for parents with children of all ages.

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