The arrival of Ryan Turbidy on our screens last Friday night, dressed as Olaf, not only signalled the beginning of ‘The Late Late Toy show’ but also marked the beginning of Christmas, proper.
The moment Halloween ends Christmas begins to move into view and nothing has come to sound like a Christmas klaxon more than that perennial favourite, ‘The Toy Show’.
If you were like me last Friday you spent the evening managing your children’s expectations.
Every new gadget or toy was met with a collective ‘wow, I’d love that, maybe I’ll ask Santa for that’.
There is no doubt about it, Christmas places huge strain on families as they try to give their children a wonderful time. And often families have been slowly acquiring presents over October and November to save them from a huge cost in December and ‘The Toy Show’ can really throw a spanner in all that preparation.
But learning how to manage your child’s expectations is not only key for a peaceful and happy Christmas but also for a peaceful and happy life.
Remember, children who learn how to manage their expectations will never be devastated when things don’t go exactly how they planned.
Managing expectations is a significant part of being resilient. So do not feel the pressure to get them everything they ask for. If I asked you to recall a happy moment from your own childhood at Christmas, what memory would pop into your mind?
I doubt the first thing you think of would be that present you received when you were 6, I’d say it would more likely be a sense of togetherness or shared experience.
In fact, how many presents can you recall getting at Christmas over your life? Very few, I would imagine. So what does that tell us? It is not about the gifts we receive, but about something deeper and more meaningful that stays long in the memory.
Remember, the child who gets everything, enjoys nothing. I see this so often in my clinic; parents at a loss as to what to do with their out of control teenager. They are living in a state of conflict as their child has come to expect whatever they want, and when their demands are not met there is chaos in the house, slamming doors, shouting and hitting.
I often find myself sitting in front of parents who really have no insight into how things have spiralled so desperately out of control.
But if a child comes to believe that they can get whatever they want, whenever they want, it is incredibly destructive for their psyche and future happiness. I also see it as a parent, going to parties with my daughters. The extravagance and lengths some parents go to make the day perfect.
And what message is that giving their children; things must be perfect to be able to enjoy them? So, is it any wonder children have such huge expectations when it comes to Christmas? Is it also any wonder they can’t handle anything less than perfection.
What an unhappy life that is going to be! We must teach our children that it is not all about taking and receiving. There is so much joy in giving, too. When a child develops this understanding they increase their sense of self-worth, because they appreciate what they have.
When a child expects to get everything they want they have no value in anything.
Why would they? They can get it again so easily. The value of something is not only measured by how easily we can acquire it but also by what it means to us. But the meaning is getting lost by parents who mistakenly believe to get their children whatever they want is somehow a proxy of their love.
This Christmas is an opportunity for you to instil in your child a sense of value in things. So setting a few boundaries around this Christmas may, in fact, help your children to enjoy it more.
Something I do when chatting with my children about Christmas is to tell them that they can have three presents, one big, one small, and one they have to donate to a family less fortunate.
Almost always, I find the one they have to donate to the family takes more consideration.
When they’re opening their presents on Christmas morning they always wonder about the present they have given and whether or not a child somewhere in the world is enjoying their gift.
How can you be self–consumed when you have developed this sense of self in the world?
Christmas is a time we come together and share gifts but the real gift of Christmas just might be helping your child to see how fortunate they are and how they will not always get everything they want in life.
Helping your child to manage their expectations might not only be a gift for this Christmas but for life.