Give children age-appropriate honesty if holidays will be thin

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  December 7, 2011 06:00 AM

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Hello Barbara,

This Christmas is going to be very scaled back for us. Our kids are 11 and 9. Is it better to give them some warning? It's not that there won't be anything, just that it won't be as grand as past years. I'm thinking that they are old enough to understand that circumstances have changed -- and could change again! -- but until they do, we need to be prudent.

Thanks,
From: MC, Topeka, KS

Dear MC,

I like your attitude. Life is not static, circumstances have changed, and they will likely change again. To be able to impart that to your children is a gift in itself. Truly.

Even though they are 9 and 11, likely can handle an explanation But be careful not to burden them with inappropriate details. For instance, they don't need to know you're conserving because you're in debt. If there's a reason that is obvious -- dad/mom has lost/changed jobs; rising costs -- by all means share it, but basically, it's enough for them to have an idea that this is a year when the family needs to conserve.

Frankly, pretending that that's not the case when it is, or spending what you don't have to spend, only makes matters worse for everyone. It adds more stress for you to be going more into debt, and kids have a knack for picking up on our stress, which means they act out, which means daily life gets more stressful for all of you......

If you can manage one gift for each child, help them to create a wish list that is scaled down so that there will be something for them to anticipate. Maybe this is the year to do something outside the box, like creating new traditions and rituals, volunteering together, or making home-made gifts. Be sure to ask them what ideas they have for scaling back the family spending. Including them in the decision making will not only generate some great ideas, but also get them to buy into whatever changes you make. Sometimes the best holidays are the simplest ones. But you know that.

Readers, have you been through this? What advice do you have?

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2 comments so far...
  1. Talking about volunteering or making home-made gifts is great for gifts from mommy and daddy. If it is setting expectations for gifts from Santa ... you could also have a family discussion about how everyone, not just your family, is having a tough time right now and that Santa might be trying to help a lot more kids than he usually does. When helping them to develop their wish lists from Santa, that would be a good opportunity to talk about the types and amount of gifts that are appropriate when so many people are in need. At 9 and 11, I am sure they've heard about the economy and how many people are hungry or homesless, so that should really help set the context for this sort of discussion.

    Posted by bostongrl December 7, 11 05:11 PM
  1. I always think the thing kids want most is time with their parents. I love the idea of making gifts and decorations. We didn't have much when I was little but we made paper wreaths, strung cranberries, made popcorn balls, made fudge and taffy and went out to choose our tree as a family. Maybe there are some inexpensive places to go in your area that would be treats. Here the libraries carry family passes to museums that you can borrow for a day.

    Posted by favorite auntie December 7, 11 07:53 PM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. Talking about volunteering or making home-made gifts is great for gifts from mommy and daddy. If it is setting expectations for gifts from Santa ... you could also have a family discussion about how everyone, not just your family, is having a tough time right now and that Santa might be trying to help a lot more kids than he usually does. When helping them to develop their wish lists from Santa, that would be a good opportunity to talk about the types and amount of gifts that are appropriate when so many people are in need. At 9 and 11, I am sure they've heard about the economy and how many people are hungry or homesless, so that should really help set the context for this sort of discussion.

    Posted by bostongrl December 7, 11 05:11 PM
  1. I always think the thing kids want most is time with their parents. I love the idea of making gifts and decorations. We didn't have much when I was little but we made paper wreaths, strung cranberries, made popcorn balls, made fudge and taffy and went out to choose our tree as a family. Maybe there are some inexpensive places to go in your area that would be treats. Here the libraries carry family passes to museums that you can borrow for a day.

    Posted by favorite auntie December 7, 11 07:53 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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