Coping with the Stress of Expectation at Christmas

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • Many people have made the observation that we live in times of entitlement. What was once accepted as being outside of personal reach is sometimes now regarded with resentment and envy. At its most extreme, some blame these feelings of entitlement as fueling muggings, riots, and other forms of antisocial behavior. Less extreme, but closer to home, the expectations of children at Christmas can sometimes pile on the stress for parents who don't have the means to meet demands. How best to manage such a situation?


    One way to look at the situation is to think about children in terms of younger and older. The way you approach younger and older children will be different, so let's address them in turn. First, it's important to remember that a wish list is just that. The fact that a child would like half the toys they've seen in the shop or advertised on television doesn't mean they are entitled to them, or that you should bend over backwards to get them. This is a part of growing up. As adults, we'd all like something better or something more, but we've learned to adapt to our circumstances.

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    I think it's also important not to become fretful over the way you believe your child will respond to, say, fewer presents this year. With younger children especially, their Christmas isn't really about presents, it's about the nature of the day, the fun they may have from playing games with adults, the novelty of a party or other Christmas activities. So, anxieties about the number or costs of presents are generally unfounded with this age group.


    If anything, parental responsibilities may have to step up a gear in the run up to Christmas. If a child's expectations are high then they have to be managed, but not flattened. If you support the idea of Santa, for example, you might mention that he has lots more children to visit this year and that it's important to share things around.


    It's difficult to compare one generation with another but my own experience as a child is still imprinted. In our house we put up a few decorations and a sock for Santa. On Christmas morning we'd come downstairs and the Christmas tree was up, fully decorated and a few presents scattered beneath it. It had a real wow factor. Springing a magical surprise on Christmas day for young children is so rewarding for them and their parents. When my daughter was very young I'd cut out a boot-shaped template and make Santa's footsteps with glitter from the door to the Christmas tree. She was awe-struck, and still talks about it in her twenties! So, make Christmas a day of fun and celebration. If you've got some fun ideas up your sleeve you'll find they contribute to a very special day.


    Older children have different expectations and their motivation is partly to do with matching or bettering their peers. With older children it's perhaps best not to try and tone down expectations as, ironic as it may seem, it may have the reverse effect of raising them. Older children are however better able to grasp the concept of money. What you shouldn't do is put yourself in needless debt by trying to meet all demands. One way of managing the situation is to place some of the responsibility on the older child. For example, if two of the things on the wish list are expensive you could ask them to choose one, or you may have to choose for them.


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    As parents, it is not our responsibility to make Christmas a perfect day. This is a shared endeavor. As parents we might try to put in place a loose framework of being available to play with the kids, to make the home warm and inviting, of making an effort to be pleasant, but we're not in charge of meeting everyone's expectations. If you try and think back to your best Christmases, the chances of you recalling the presents you received are pretty low. More likely, your best Christmas will be one in which fun, or relaxation, or perhaps some adventure was had. Christmas really is what we make it.


Published On: November 24, 2011