As most adults know, life is full of disappointments. But what if your child or children wake up on Christmas morning to disappointment after opening their presents?
Maybe your children didn’t think they received enough gifts? Or your children are comparing, with their siblings and friends, the quantity of gifts that they see or hear others received, but they didn’t get ‘as many’.
Unfortunately, you may be a little too late to have ‘The Talk’. (Not that ‘Talk’.) This is the ‘Money Talk’, something far too many parents don’t have with their children and which can, in fact, be far more embarrassing for everyone involved than that other talk.
But not having it can lead to upset offspring on what it supposed to be one of the most fun and magical mornings of the year.
‘It comes down to expectations,’ says Leah Drewcook, a licensed Insolvency Trustee, for MMP in Prince George, British Columbia. ‘And to teach your children how to prepare for expectations.’
Drewcook has three children and had to sit down with one of her sons and tell him that Santa’s elves weren’t going to bring him the thirty items on his list. ‘I had to tell him that he can’t have 15 Nerf guns. Santa will grant you one big gift off this list.’ she told her son.
Drewcook advises that parents prepare their children beforehand if they can’t afford the gifts on their children’s wish list.
‘We always try to talk way in advance of the holidays,’ says Drewcook. ‘We ask our children, and every parent should, if they remember the gifts, or do you remember the memories?’
It is true that memories often always outweigh the gifts, but children can’t always appreciate this until later in life. And it is difficult to curb your child’s disappointment, especially if parents are not comfortable talking to their children openly about what they can and cannot afford.
Sitting down with your kids to talk beforehand also means they’ll be less likely to bring it up in a roomful of people, who will all, of course, be uncomfortable, adds Drewcook.
Drewcook says that many parents understandably don’t want to have the Money Talk with their children, for fear of them losing their respect, fear of them not understanding, or fear of crushing their child’s dream.
‘Parents should be open about money and their financial situations with their children. We need to start encouraging them about being open with money from an early age. You have to start having money talks early and regularly. You don’t have to tell them how much you make, but you should be showing them all year round what the cost of living is and that there’s only a certain amount of money left at the end of the month.’ advises Drewcook.
This, too, will teach your children to be better at finances themselves in the future, she adds.
Let’s say you haven’t yet had the Money Talk or the Expectation Talk with your kids (or the message didn’t land) and you’re gearing up to be faced with a sad child on Christmas morning. How should you move forward?
According to Drewcook, now is also the perfect time for children to learn how to deal with disappointments. ‘You need to be firm with your children,’ says Drewcook, ‘and have that discussion that, indeed, life is full of disappointments. And, although they may not want to hear it on Christmas morning, teach them that Christmas is more about giving than receiving, which it is.’
This, too, is a difficult conversation when buying gifts for multiple offspring, or children comparing what Santa brought them with their friends. ‘Children watch what their siblings get and talk to their friends. It’s human nature.’ she says. ‘To look at what others have received and look at what we have received.’
Children should also be prepared by knowing that the cost of a present doesn’t matter, nor should it matter that your brother or friend received more gifts from Santa, because you bought your child or children each ‘an unique, meaningful gift, regardless of price.’ says Drewcook.
This is another teachable moment for kids: you can’t always get what you want. It’s a harsh reality, but there will be many, many other times in life, let’s say, birthday parties, where children either get or receive presents.
Drewcook says that you should sit down and have the Money Talk with your children, especially in tough times.
‘For many parents it’s embarrassing to have to tell their child they can’t afford something for them. Parents already feel bad if they can’t afford things for they children. And, it could also be very embarrassing to have a child who is sad on Christmas because they didn’t get what they expected, and they have a meltdown in front of other friends or family members. You don’t want to have your child screaming, ‘But I already have something like that!’ Or, ‘Are there any more gifts?’ says Drewcook. ‘As with getting any present, we need to teach out children to be kind and gracious when receiving presents, even if they’re less than thrilled.’
It may be hard on children who have had high expectations, but it’s also hard on parents. ‘Parents invest emotionally in gift giving, especially for their children. And it breaks your heart too, as a parent, because we all want our children to be happy. But sometimes you just don’t have the money.’
If parents take away the stigma of having The Money Talk before big celebrations, and are open about what you (or Santa) can and cannot afford with your children, stress what Christmas is really all about, and that memories far outweigh any present you could possibly buy, then your kids will turn out just fine, with reasonable expectations, making a magical morning only joyous.
‘This could be every parents New Year’s Resolution. To have The Money Talk. It’s not the worst idea!’ says Drewcook.