How to Manage Your Kids' Expectations Around the Holidays - Real Mom Recs

How to Manage Your Kids’ Expectations Around the Holidays

As if parenting isn’t challenging enough from January-October, when the clock strikes 12 on November 1st parents everywhere have to deal with Kids During the Holidays. The parties, the sweets, the carols, the toy catalogs, the commercials. It’s like a Christmas bomb goes off all around our children.

Like most parents, I try hard all year not to spoil my kids. I try to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and not entitlement. I long to embrace minimalism. When November and December roll around, I don’t want to undo all of that by going over-the-top for the holidays.

Kids are a marketer’s dream and it’s natural for them to want everything they see on TV. They’ll also see plenty of images of Christmas trees with presents just pouring out from underneath it. They may think that is what’s normal, and they’ll develop huge expectations. Here are some ways to manage their expectations and keep your sanity around the holidays.

managing kids expectations around the holidays

1. Keep the lists small

Ever hand your kid a toy catalog and tell them to circle what they want, only to get it back with 90% of the toys circled?

Children are literal, and if you ask them what they want for Christmas they may decide they want ALL THE THINGS. And once they’ve asked for it, their expectation is that they’re going to get it.

Don’t leave it so open-ended for them.

Instead of encouraging my kids to add everything in their wildest dreams to their Christmas list, I try to get them to think of a few things they truly want. We’ll write down a list of 3. Then when they see a commercial for a blanket in the shape of a shark that they just HAVE to have, I’ll refer back to their list and ask which thing they want to replace. Typically they look at the list and within moments the shark blanket is no longer a necessity.

2. Be upfront when the answer is no

Call me a mean mom all you want, but there are some things I’m just not going to give my child even if it’s the only thing he wants for Christmas. I don’t want my kids to have video games, so if they beg for an Xbox I know it’s not going to happen. Same thing goes for a puppy. (I already have 4 kids who act like animals, so as far as pets go- just no.)

It is better to disappoint your child on whatever random day they ask for these things rather than to disappoint them on Christmas morning. As soon as they mention something that off-limits for you, just be straightforward and tell them they won’t be getting that so they should choose something else. I like to be honest and give them the reason behind the no:

  • That is very expensive and we don’t spend that much on Christmas gifts.
  • Kids often get hurt using those toys so we won’t be playing with those at our house.
  • We don’t do video games because too much screen time isn’t good for kids.

“But Santa will get it for me!”

If your kid is smart they will try to pull the Santa card. We stick with the story that Santa knows all, including household rules. And Santa would never give a gift that breaks a household rule.

managing kids' expectations around the holidays
Sorry, son. Even if you’re on the nice list, Santa still won’t bring you a puppy.

3. Make it about giving

All of us parents hope our kids will get in the spirit of giving, but that’s not necessarily something that comes naturally for children. To shift their thinking from themselves to others, I make a concerted effort to individually plan out each kid’s  own Christmas shopping. Each one has a brainstorming session where they jot down ideas of what they think their family members will like, then we shop for it, they wrap it (with assistance) and make a card.

Whether they are spending their own money or not isn’t really the point, but the thought that goes into the gift is. It truly warms my heart to hear one of my children deliberate on which gift their sibling will like more. My 7 year old son once stood in Target for 15 minutes holding two My Little Ponies in his hands coming up with different reasons why his little sister would like one more than the other. When Christmas morning came, he watched her open that gift with more interest than you’d ever imagine a 7 year old boy can- all because he wanted to see her reaction.

We Moms take great joy in seeing our kids happy with their Christmas gifts, don’t deny them the same feeling of joy!

This year in addition to having our kids give gifts to their siblings, they will also be shopping for Grandma and Grandpa, their teachers, and children in need who put lists on the angel tree.

4. Focus on experiences

Prepare your kids in advance for how the holiday will go. Let them know they may or may not get all the presents they wanted, but they can be sure they’ll get to have a special day with family. Talk about how they’ll get to decorate Christmas cookies and leave some out for Santa. Get them planning what they’ll do with their cousins when they come to town.

Do you always watch a special Christmas movie? Or go to a religious service? Make handmade ornament to put on the tree? Incorporate your children’s ideas and preferences into these holiday traditions where you can. Build excitement around these experiences. When Mom is enthusiastic about something, the rest of the family will follow.

manage kids' expectations for the holidays
Family time together beats a gift grub any day

5. Don’t be afraid to keep it small

While we want Christmas to be a special time for our children, some kids just can’t handle all the hoopla. You know your kids and how much it takes for them to become overstimulated. Be mindful of their needs and plan accordingly. Sticking to their daily routine or giving them a secluded place for some quiet play on Christmas will prevent an epic meltdown.

Kids with past trauma, sensory issues, ADHD, autism, anxiety or a myriad of other issues especially will need some help getting through the holidays. This article Parenting Kids Who Sabotage Big Days offers more advice about keeping the holidays small and manageable for kids who can’t handle everything that goes along with a huge holiday.

With some advanced preparation, you can manage your kids’ expectations around the holidays and keep the spirit about love and togetherness instead of presents, presents, and more presents!




Adoptive mom, biological mom, slacker mom, Disney mom, and above all things a REAL mom. Fan of blogging, sleeping, and pretending not to hear my kids fight.


  1. This post is a perfect mission statement for the holidays! And as a reminder, I actually think it would be a good idea for all parents to take your headings and adapt to fit their family priorities. One could even go as far as making a holiday-themed printable to post in the kitchen as a visual reminder for the whole family because it really is so easy to get swept up in the hoopla☺

  2. Some great tips for Christmas here. I do always explain to my daughter that some things really aren’t possible at Christmas so not to ask for them.

  3. I really like the idea of keeping the wishlist to a maximum of three items. I’m totally with you on the computer games and I can’t wait to do some Christmas baking with Little M!

  4. Great tips for parents. I love the part where you said ..Sorry, son. Even if you’re on the nice list, Santa still won’t bring you a puppy. As most kids are so smart that they just add it to their santa’s list and get it anyway.

  5. I love love LOVE this post! My daughter had HUGE expectations when it came to Christmas last year, and while we worked it out in the end, it really killed some of the joy for both of us. Going to implement a lot of these tips this year! Thanks!

  6. I LOVE this! These are such great tips. Thankfully my five year old only wants like 2 things and my 2 year old wants a “big Christmas tree and a little Christmas tree”, but I’m sure this stage won’t last forever!

  7. Pingback: How to save money for Christmas (don't go broke this holiday season!) - The Curious Frugal

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