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How to Temper Holiday Expectations for Your Young Kids

When it comes to your child’s holiday wish list, sometimes less is more. Find out how to fulfill holiday wishes without spending a fortune on gifts.

December 2, 2021

The holidays can be a tricky time of year for parents. We love and cherish our children, and want to give them the best possible experience for the holidays. But we also have responsibilities and bills to pay. Sometimes, showering our kids with gifts is simply not possible. 

It’s important to remember that many child psychologists suggest that the quality and thoughtfulness of gifts are more important than the number of presents under the tree.

This article will help parents navigate the process of fulfilling their children’s holiday wish list without having to spend a fortune on gifts.

The psychology of gifting

Gift-giving can be a minefield for parents, but it can help to think about the quality of the gifts instead of focusing on the quantity. 

In an interview with Popular Science, psychotherapist Sean Grover explained: “What’s important is getting the little one something — maybe only one thing — that they will cherish and remember forever.” 

Grover went on to explain that gifts can build or detract from self-esteem in one of two ways:

External or transient self-esteem builders come in the form of material gifts that children may think will make them more popular at school or among friends. Examples include a new smartphone or a pair of popular sneakers. The problem with these materialistic self-esteem boosters is that they’re short-lived; there will always be a new pair of sneakers or a fancier smartphone on the market. These gifts may teach children to rely on materialistic ideals of self-worth. 

Internal self-esteem builders come in the form of gifts or experiences that help children be creative and develop a sense of identity. Examples could include a musical instrument, a pair of soccer cleats or horseback-riding lessons. These gifts help cultivate skills and a sense of identity in the child — “I am a musician,” “I am a soccer player” — instead of creating a reliance on external objects to provide self-worth. 

Help your child craft an intentional holiday wish list

Often children want to create a holiday wish list that describes all the gifts they would like to receive. But before they do that, it’s helpful for parents to sit down and discuss the concept of gifting with their children — and present an alternative to traditional holiday wish lists. 

For instance, Sean Grover suggests that parents present their children with a simple question: Would you prefer one very special gift or several smaller gifts? 

Many children will gravitate toward the option of one very special gift. And if they make that decision on their own, they won’t be upset when they don’t see a dozen gifts under the tree. 

Parents, remember this: A “special” gift doesn’t have to be expensive. Instead, it just needs to be something thoughtful that the child will genuinely enjoy. 

Base your gift-giving on your child’s true interests, rather than fleeting interests in the latest popular movies or toys. For example, if they love music, consider a musical instrument as a gift, even if all they want to talk about is the latest Marvel movie. 

Help your child understand gratitude and generosity

We all want our children to grow up to be kind, generous and open-minded people. One way to inspire these kinds of traits is to help children understand gratitude and generosity. 

Gratitude goes beyond just saying “thank you,” but that’s a good place to start. And the more you talk about gratitude, the more the concept will sink in with your children. Verywell Mind has a helpful guide for teaching children gratitude. 

Generosity and reciprocity are other important values to inspire in young children. Research suggests that we get more long-lasting joy from giving gifts than receiving them. That’s why many experts recommend that you help your children buy gifts for others. This helps your child too. 

There are a lot of families who are in need this holiday season and are unable to fulfill their children’s holiday wishes. You can consider providing a helping hand — and teach your kids about generosity  — by sponsoring a family in need or donating toys to Toys for Tots

Create a special holiday tradition that goes beyond gifts

Gifts are an important part of the holidays — but the real meaning of most holiday traditions is to spend quality time with the people we love. 

Your household may or may not have some of your own fun traditions already. Either way, it’s a great idea to create new holiday traditions that are fun and engaging for children. Here are some suggestions:

  • Bake and decorate holiday cookies or other treats

  • If you celebrate Christmas, go to a cut-your-own or u-cut farm to cut down your Christmas tree

  • Spend time decorating the house in holiday cheer

  • Craft holiday wreaths from fresh branches

  • Read holiday books with your little ones

  • Watch classic holiday movies together

  • Create paper snowflakes or other holiday crafts 

  • Design a fun holiday postcard to send to loved ones

Wrapping up

The holidays are about much more than giving gifts, but as parents, we must navigate a fine line between over-gifting and under-gifting. As long as you approach the holidays with intention and speak with your children openly, you should find success. 

This year, consider making it a goal to pay for the holidays without adding any debt. If you’re still paying off last year’s holiday debt, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans rely on credit cards to fund the holidays each year. 

If you have credit card debt to tackle, consider using Tally†. Tally is a personal finance app offering a lower-interest line of credit to help Americans save money on credit card interest. 

To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. Based on your credit history, the APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% - 29.99% per year. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.