Part of the fun of anticipating the holiday season for kids comes when the toy catalogs start hitting the mailbox. I remember my brother and I fighting over them and poring over them when it was my turn. By the time Christmas rolled around, I had devised an elaborate system of color-coding, circles and stars to indicate what was my heart's desire, what I really wanted, and what would be great if Santa was in a really generous mood.
While that's all fun and games, managing kids' expectations can be a real challenge for parents this time of year. A lot of us are dealing with reduced hours or even no job at all, and even those of us who are working might feel a little uncertain about spending on mounds of gifts. And, of course, you don't want to raise little greed monsters, so at some point you have to set a limit.
It's OK to be honest with older kids if you're feeling the financial pinch. Telling them that while they won't be getting everything they want, the holiday will still be just as special as it always has been helps them manage their own expectations and reassures them that even if the tree won't be quite as heaped with gifts as it was last year, Christmas magic is still happening.
For kids who still believe in Santa, that can be trickier. Truly little ones are really just happy having a bunch of gifts to rip through, so several inexpensive gifts are more exciting than a few big ones. School-age kids can understand that some gifts are brought by Santa and some by Mom and Dad, and that Mom and Dad have to watch their spending this year. It's always better to be as honest as possible...saying "We'll see" or "We'll have to wait for Santa" sets them up to be disappointed.
It's also helpful to get your family involved in being Santa for someone else. All kind of charities have adopt-a-family programs that let you buy gifts for a family in need, and help kids understand the true spirit of the season.
How do you manage your kids' expectations at the holidays?