If you’re already stressed out about impending Christmas meltdowns over unwanted gifts and not enough presents under the tree, just do what Jimmy Kimmel does: give yo ur kids intentionally horrible Christmas presents and record their epic meltdowns. Post on YouTube, encourage others to do the same, and start a viral movement where parents get the last laugh.
But if you’re like this dad, your Christmas gift prank may have a surprising result you never expected. Give your kids a banana and an onion in beautifully wrapped paper, and they may just thank you for the thoughtful present. Don’t you wish it were that easy?
Pranks and viral videos aside, we know you just want to have a happy and peaceful Christmas where the kids don’t get hysterical over unwanted gifts or demand more. Nothing makes you question your own parenting as much as seeing your kids melt down over stuff they didn’t get. Fortunately, there are ways to help combat the classic Christmas meltdown before it ever gets ignited in the first place. Here’s how to get started.
Teach Them Santa Isn’t Their Personal Shopper
The real-life St. Nick’s parents died when he was just a teengager and left him a ton of money, which he used to keep three impoverished daughters without a dowry from being sold into slavery.
After St. Nick helped this poor family and the daughters, he decided to dedicate his life to helping other people in need. Coca-Cola later modernized St. Nick and turned him into a chubby, cherubic Santa Claus who accepts the gift demands on any list, loves Coke, stuffs his face with cookies, and brings kids copious amounts of presents. Thanks, Coca-Cola!
While the real story behind St. Nick probably isn’t an appropriate tale for young kids, you can still teach them that the idea is to help others and want to make other people happy. Start by setting appropriate expectations on whether Santa will bring one gift or many, and let your kids know that he’s not there to stock up their toy boxes. Focus on teaching them that Santa comes to help celebrate the spirit of giving.
Embrace the Spirit of Giving
Show your kids by example that the real meaning of Christmas is giving and helping others. Talk about how much you love making gifts for others, and get the kids involved in making Christmas cookies and special treats for friends and family. Splurge on a few arts-and-crafts items, and get the kids busy making handmade decorations from wooden pre-cut ornaments, paint, glitter glue, and ribbon.
Your kids can also make their own wrapping paper from brown paper lunch bags taped together. Decorate with crayons or markers, glittery stickers, and Xeroxed photographs of the kids to create meaningful wrapping paper everyone will love.
Help Someone in Need
Just like the original St. Nick, your family can get involved in helping someone in need. Participate in a Toys for Tots drive and (if you think your kids can handle it without a meltdown), let them shop for a special toy for another child. Volunteering to cook a meal and donating winter coats are other ideas.
Remember your own neighbors and community may need an extra hand. Seniors, single parents, and disabled friends can probably use a hand getting their yard raked or snow shoveled, or could use a home-cooked meal. Get the kids involved and talk about how good it feels to help someone else and how much they can impact their own community.
Set Appropriate Traditions
Before launching into the same traditions as everyone else on the block, think about the end game. Visiting Santa multiple times a season can just lead to Christmas List Fatigue and set an expectation for an onslaught of Christmas gifts. And do you really want an Elf on the Shelf watching your children’s every move? These little elves may get them to behave and comply, or it could backfire and turn into a contest of who’s the best behaved and gets the most gifts come Christmas Day.
Pick and choose which traditions you want to embrace, and which you want to leave to the neighbors. Instead, make your own family traditions focused on simplicity and togetherness. Organize a group in your neighborhood to go caroling, make hot cocoa, watch a Christmas movie every weekend night, frost holiday cookies, and make your own homemade Christmas cards. Hopefully they won’t even ask why a toy elf is watching their friends’ every move.
Talk About Wants vs. Needs
Babies don’t know they can start screaming for toys to materialize on Christmas Day just yet. They’re content looking cute in a holiday outfit and playing with wrapping paper. Those were the days!
But it’s easy for toddlers and older kids to blur the lines between their wants and needs, especially when they’re staring Christmas morning in the face. Soon they’re crying over how much they “need” that $200 toy dream house or gaming system. Spend some time talking about how things like water, clothing, and food are needs, but toys are special wants. Let them know it’s okay to want things like a new doll, but that their special wants are something to indulge in only once in awhile.
Offer alternatives to those nonstop wants, like making homemade marshmallows together for homemade cocoa. Or get them in on some kid-sized fun by getting out cookie cutters and let them make their own Play Doh that they can turn into special Christmas ornaments.
Manage Expectations Early
You’ve established that Santa isn’t a toy broker and have set a few simple, family-friendly Christmas traditions. Now it’s time to set appropriate expectations. Let your kids know approximately how many gifts they’ll probably receive, who wants to give them special presents (like Nana and Pappy), and what to expect on Christmas. Remember to tell them you expect them to be able to handle disappointments without major meltdowns, to alway say “thank you,” and how you’ll handle the situation if a meltdown does happen.
Instead of focusing strictly on Christmas present expectations, emphasize all the special things you’ll do on Christmas Day, like watching a holiday movie, spending time with grandparents, eating a special dinner, and connecting on video chat with relatives. Make the emphasis of the day about family togetherness instead of gift-giving. Remember to set your own expectations as well. Your kids are still kids, after all. Despite your best intentions, chances are high that they’ll get up before dawn, may face some disappointments over a gift they didn’t get, and crash in a heap of cookie-fueled exhaustion.
Lead by Example
How you act and talk about the holidays will directly impact how your kids feel about Christmas. First, monitor your own wants and needs. Are you talking to others about how much you wish you could have a new iPhone, laptop, or piece of jewelry? Your kids will pick up on that dialogue and associate the holiday with an opportunity to indulge.
It’s also important to use a first-person perspective with your kids on what Christmas means. Don’t spend the holidays lecturing them on how fortunate they are and how they shouldn’t want so many gifts. Instead, talk about how fortunate you feel, how grateful you are for your family and friends, how much you love baking and making gifts, and how special Christmas is to you because everyone is together and looking out for one another. The more you talk about your take on Christmas and work to bring your words to life, the faster your kids will fall in line.
Give Experiences Instead of Gifts
What if you really want to indulge in gift-giving for your kids without setting an expectation for excess? Focus on experiential gifts instead of just toys and gadgets. Give your kids a zoo or aquarium membership, a trip to the mountains to go sledding, or a special art class they’ve been wanting to take.
Keep your expectations in check. Your kids may not jump for joy over the upcoming experience on Christmas morning, and instead gravitate towards the new toy car they got. But let the dust on the wrapping paper settle. They’ll love how Mom and Dad took them to the aquarium 23 times in a single year and how awesome that Christmas gift turned out to be.
Never Say “I Can’t Afford It”
By now your kids are aware that Santa and relatives aren’t the only ones who want to shower them with gifts. It’s normal for them to direct their gift demands directly at you. Whatever you do, don’t say “I can’t afford it.”
Saying you can’t afford something creates negativity and can make your kids feel powerless. Instead, let them know their request isn’t a “need” or just isn’t in your holiday budget. You can also tell them that they can work on ways to earn the toys they didn’t get. Little kids can help clean up or do special tasks like put laundry away in drawers. Older kids can offer to do yard work for neighbors or save up their allowance. Show your kids that they can save up and earn their very own toys, and they don’t have to rely on Christmas Day to fund a year’s worth of fun.
How do you manage Christmas meltdowns? Let us know what’s worked for you in the comments below: