Many parents become anxious around Christmas, especially if finances mean they have to cut back on presents. Concern that children's Christmas day will be ruined because Santa's sack is lighter than usual, are usually unfounded, if the situation is properly managed. As adults we frequently assume that our concepts are shared by our children. For example, the notion of ‘quality time' isn't something that even enters a child's head. All they know is that you are with them, or you aren't.
And so to Christmas presents. By now you have been assaulted by a barrage of advertising. It's on TV, it's on every street, in every magazine and in every shop. Your kids have written and rewritten their lists to a point where, if linked together, they would span the globe twice. It's all pressure for the anxious parent, but it doesn't have to be this way.
I recently came across a feature in the Times newspaper written by Simon Crompton. Having probed the various views of a number of child experts and psychologists, Crompton outlined a series of guidelines. I've summarized a few of them in this Sharepost.
First, a child's expectations should be managed by their parents. Not in a negative way but with a gentle emphasis that points to sharing and giving, rather than simpy receiving. With older kids, Crompton suggests they can be involved in a more realistic way, and may be able to contribute with ideas. Younger children may find it easier to be told that Santa has a lot more children to share gifts with this year and there is only so much room on his sleigh. In many ways these issues are not particularly problematic for most children. Most have no particular expectations for Christmas beyond the desire that it be fun and a bit magical. As a parent, you should not be apologetic, but you can have a few ideas put aside in order to make Christmas a special day.
According to psychologist Linda Blair, you should never try to explain that Santa has a cash flow problem and you shouldn't try to de-emphasize expectations. By attempting to tone down expectations kids invariably will hope for more. Some parents might find it useful to reduce TV watching or to choose channels that are less likely to target advertising to kids.
With older kids, Blair suggests using a ‘forced-choice' method. This boils down to an either-or decision. "You can either have the x-box or the ipod - choose."
When you look back at your most memorable Christmases, what was it that made them special? Probably not presents. Making Christmas magic and fun is within the gift of most parents. It may take a little creative thinking but it can be done.
It's all about the Kids, isn't it? Kids tend to take things as they see them. Even if they sulk for a while a child will usually adapt fairly quickly to what's happening around them. Adults, on the other hand, are often the people with the high expectations. If you hope for a perfect Christmas it is almost certain it won't happen.
But what if someone starts to argue and the kids get upset - Christmas is ruined! Not so. As Blair says, "there's a myth in parenting that we're there to make our children happy. Our job is to make them independent and to be able to cope with adversity."
It's impossible to suspend reality, so don't try. Christmas is a special day, but it isn't a perfect day or one that is based around giving in to all demands and expectations. As a parent, this leaves you an almost impossible situation to live up to - so don't try - you'll enjoy it more.
Published On: December 13, 2008