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Setting expectations for kids this Christmas

A Laurier professor says you should be frank with your children and acknowledge things are different this year
Christmas wrapping paper
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With the pandemic hanging around for the holidays, many parents may feel the need to work themselves over in celebrating Christmas this year with their children.

But keeping a brave face may not be the best for you or your child's well-being.

"Parents are under a lot of pressure to make the holiday magic," said Wilfrid Laurier University professor in youth and children studies, Lisa Woods. "And the compulsion is to make things better through purchases, and this year people are really suffering financially, and there's a real emotional toll to feeling that you disappointed your children."

She says children at a young age can tell that this year is different, just by the effects of the pandemic has had on daily life, but also on their parent. You might not be as well-kempt as you were before, wearing sweat pants all day as you and many other slog through the pandemic.

"Pretending that everything is normal is more damaging than acknowledging that things are not normal because they know," she says. "Children read emotion because they are so dependent emotionally and physically on their parents."

It is better to acknowledge those issues and talk with your children. Address their own fears, and let them know what is and isn't realistic this year. 

"So if they're frightened about illness (try) to talk about the doctors, the ambulance drivers, the nurses, all of the people who are helping us out to get through this difficult times," she says.

Children also learn from their parents behaviours. So if the parents reaction to the pandemic is to hide their feelings and overcompensate with gifts, kids will start developing unrealistic expectations. 

Woods says that being frank with your children about finance was very important, especially in light of how much advertisement there is aimed at selling to kids.

"Children watch us. If we are doing a lot a lot of online shopping, it's not a surprise that our kids become demanding around Christmas time, so it's really important to model good consumer behaviour. Talk about budgeting; talk about saving, not necessarily buying something right off the bat," she say.

This can also get into some difficult conversations as well. Kids notice when other children get more gets from Santa Claus, and will naturally ask questions. Not to delve too deeply into that debate, Woods says if you can afford bigger and more expensive gifts, put your own name on it. Save Santa's name on a smaller one for the sake of other families that may not be as well off.

But in general, Woods says parents should focus on experiences and creating memories that will last. 

"Whatever magic you put into Christmas this year in whatever way, you should do it, within you're financial means, as well as your energy level. People are tired this year. It's been a really rough year, and maybe it's time to let go - for parents - of some of that pressure to make the holiday perfect," she says.

Try inventing new holiday experiences, focus on helping others, making arts and crafts from what you have available, and focusing on family. Woods says the best gift we can give our children is our time.

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