Holiday “Gift-Obsession” and Managing Expectations

managing expectations

The holidays tend to magnify everything: the streets and houses get more beautiful with lights and decorations; neighbors get cheerier; lattes get spicier… the nights get later, time gets shorter, gift lists get longer, stores get busier… the list goes on. So how do you manage things when holiday gift expectations get magnified, too?

With all of the excitement, kids can become fixated on the holidays and obsessed over this gift or that gift! Our kids struggle with executive function issues all year round, but holiday hyper-focus can make this challenge even harder for them to handle – and not so easy for us, either. So grab that extra spicy latte and learn how to help them manage expectations.

“But, I NEED This!”

Hyper-focus is an ongoing challenge for families of kids with ADHD, anxiety and more. During the holidays, it’s common for kids to latch onto the idea of getting a specific gift. Whether it’s a tablet, a phone, or the newest gaming device, they feel they have to have it. They see nothing else. And, if they don’t get it…well, you’ve probably seen your child explode!

And to make matters more difficult, gift hyper-focus may be matched by a healthy dose of “magical thinking.” Kids often lack an accurate sense of what items actually cost, or do not grasp what a realistic present is. They may want that $400 gaming system with a few $60 games, not realizing that – wow, that’s a lot of money! Or, no, that’s not in the same ballpark as my usual gifts.

But, even if they do realize it, the part of their brain that regulates focus is on vacation, too! The part that reminds them, “We have rules around holidays,” or “We have expectations about gifts” evaporates because they are so focused on what they’re excited about. A client of mine got a holiday list from her son: it said, “I want a puppy” — 18 times!

A few years ago, my daughter wanted an iPhone. “Wanted” isn’t quite strong enough for how she felt! She needed that device. All she put on her list was “iPhone.” Clearly, I needed to help her manage her holiday gift expectations. We had a conversation about budgets; we had a conversation about managing expectations; we had a conversation about age-appropriate presents (I thought she was too young; she thought I was unreasonable!). But it was all she could think about, to the exclusion of other items she might have loved to receive.

How do you handle situations like that?

Well, even though the budget and expectation-management conversations didn’t exactly end in, “Wow, Mom. You’re right. So right. As usual. And you look pretty today. You’re the best!” it’s still important to have them and try to set realistic expectations. They may not agree with us, but it helps to raise their understanding.

The Best Thing You Can Do: Have Compassion For Your Kid

So if they are not likely to see things your way, what should you do? Validate their feelings — especially when they’re hyper-focused or overwhelmed. Try something like this: “I can tell you really, really want this gift, and I know it’s important to you.” Or, “This seems like it’s all-consuming for you. It’s all you can think about, isn’t it?” Not judging; simply acknowledging.

A lot of the time, as parents, we skip right ahead to problem-solving. We go straight to “No,” or to redirection or correction. But if our kids are not following the rules, try starting with, “I know it’s hard, especially at this time of year because it’s so exciting. It’s really difficult to keep it together. I want to give you grace, and I also need to set expectations for you.”

Remember that it is hard for our kids to be their best selves, to hold their emotions and impulses in check, particularly during the holidays. It’s hard for us too, sometimes! Give them – and yourself – a little compassion.

One of the first tools they teach in coaching school is validation and acknowledgement. It’s a powerful way to take a Coach Approach to parenting! When you help your kid manage holiday gift expectations, you can handle holiday hyper-focus and enjoy the season together!

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