In case you haven’t noticed, it’s time to shop for Christmas or Hanukah. If you haven’t noticed, you must be seriously isolated, and I’m concerned for your wellbeing. Many of us are trying to find a way through the commercial blitz while honoring our own values and budgets. Very likely your children are also influenced by the commercialism, raising the need for parents to educate them about what their family’s values and budget are. Throw in the wish to preserve the magic of believing in Santa Claus, and many parents find themselves in a bind. I thought I would share some thoughts that I have on helping children with the season.
Great Expectations: Commercials
A major issue is helping children with their expectations. Incidentally, we adults also struggle with this. The ads and the culture raise our hopes that all the holidays will make us all happy, when in fact, many people are more sad at this time—topic for another newsletter. Children see the ads on television or in the newspaper and they are caught up in the same fantasy. “I’ll be truly happy if I can have the ___________.” This is a good time for parents to spend some time looking at commercials and explaining to children how the manufacturers try to trick us. Observe the ecstatic children, and explain that they are actors. Point out that the toy might be very cheaply made and not perform as shown.
We learned this lesson the hard way twice in my family. There was big disappointment when the toy did not work. I have to take some responsibility for it: I was taken in by the ad. Explain that the point of commercials is to sell toys, not to make children happy or to get them what they need. Even preschoolers can get the idea about this. You can look at a commercial together and ask your child to point out the ways the manufacturer is trying to trick you.
Great Expectations: Budget
I think it’s fine and even helpful to explain to children in general terms about the extent of your spending on the holiday, even if Santa is bringing the gifts. This discussion starts with the adults. Decide on what you will spend for the holiday so that you can hold the line with your children. Young children have little concept of cost, but you can educate them. With older children, especially those who no longer believe in Santa, you can be more direct. You can say, “If Santa brings you that game system, there will be a couple of small gifts in addition, but not much else.”
Is this crushing hopes, taking the excitement out of the holidays? I don’t think so. You don’t need to tell your child exactly what to expect. It is just giving them more realistic expectations decreasing the likelihood of disappointment. Remember that many children with learning disabilities and especially those with Asperger Syndrome are concrete in their understanding. They need to know what to expect. I once knew an Aspie boy who made a very long list for Santa complete with websites for ordering items. His parents chuckled at his efforts and got him some of the items on his list. Sadly, he was angry and heartbroken when he did not receive every item on the list. Fortunately, his parents understood that this upset was not about greed but about a misunderstanding. Parents cannot avoid every misunderstanding, but we try.
Good luck with your holiday plans. Consider at the adult level first what you want to emphasize in your holiday observances and your gift-giving. Then communicate this to your children. And give yourself a break. The commercial glitz and the cultural expectation of happy families at the holidays grab us all during this season and raise unrealistic hopes. When that happens try to refocus on what is realistic and what you can be grateful for. I wish you all the best.
Parent Coach and Licensed Psychologist, Carolyn Stone, Ed.D. (www.drcarolynstone.com) educates parents of children with learning disabilities, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome and anxiety about their children’s needs using humor and evidence-based practices. Parents learn new strategies through role play and homework. She teaches children to manage their anxiety and attention and to understand their learning styles. You can learn about Dr. Stone’s work from her blog at http://www.drcarolynstone.com/blog/.