How to teach your children how to handle holiday disappointment

While gift giving and receiving is part of many holiday traditions, mental health experts say it can also serve as an opportunity to help your child learn a great life lesson.

“Engage in a conversation with your children about what the season means to you and to your family,” said Dr. Allison Baker of the Child Mind Institute in New York City. “And stressing that it’s more than just gives, in terms of receiving gifts, but the joy of giving gifts and also the opportunity to volunteer and engage in charitable giving.”

“…You can shape your children’s expectations and manage their expectations in terms of what’s realistic in terms of what they can receive,” she said.

Once the big day comes and gifts are given, your child may express disappointment  if they either don’t like or don’t get exactly what they want. Parents can be a key role in helping their children deal with disappointment.

“…It’s important that little ones have trials and tribulations to manage their feelings and their emotions in the service of developing social competence and resilience. And so if you  cannot shield your child from that but rather look at this as an opportunity to build character… they are better for it,” Baker said.

While the holidays may be described as being “all about the children,” parents play a role in making sure they are happy for everyone.

“…Parents need to be realistic about their expectations— you know your child, you know your child’s strengths, and you know your child’s limitations. So if you’re realistic in terms of having your child join you for the holiday dinner but not expect them to sit through an elaborate five-course meal, you will in the end have lower stress… [and] enjoy the experience more.”

If your child asks about the holiday traditions of their friends, Baker said it’s a great opportunity to educate them on different cultures.