UACES Facebook HOLIDAY: Setting expectations for children at gift-giving time
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HOLIDAY: Setting expectations for children at gift-giving time

By the U of A System Division of Agriculture
Nov. 27, 2019

Fast facts

  • Let children know they won’t get everything they want
  • Consider how certain gifts might use family resources 

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LITTLE ROCK – Fueled by advertising and friends’ chatter, children’s off-the-chart holiday gift expectations can lead to disappointment, overspending and put a pall over what should be a bright spot in the year. However, there are ways to keep everyone happy.

“Holiday advertising can be overwhelming for kids,” said Brittney Schrick, extension family life specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “They want everything they see in that moment, but will move on quickly to something else.”

The first step to reining in expectations is to limit what your kids see.

“Discard catalogs that come in the mail, avoid commercial television when you can, and take their comments with a grain of salt,” Schrick said.

Timing is everything when it comes to asking children for a gift list.

“Ask them at a time when they are not looking directly at things they are supposed to want,” she said. “For example, asking them while in a store or while they are looking at a catalog or website will skew what they want to include what they see. Give them time to think about it.”

Schrick suggests dividing the wish list among relatives and others rather than having children answer each person individually.

With very young children, “it's a good time to set their expectations with realistic ideas of what they will get,” she said. “Rather than going overboard early, give only a few gifts.” 

Set Real Limits

It’s good to let children know there are limits.

“Be direct with your children about the fact that they will not get everything they ask for,” Schrick said, urging parents to “be thoughtful about the things you choose to spend money on, share space with, and introduce to your children.” 

When in doubt, use the test of four by asking yourself these questions:

  • Will this interfere with my child learning or doing something they should be learning or doing?
  • Will this use too many family resources, such as money, time and space?
  • Will this benefit my child or me?
  • Will this cause potential harm to my child, my home, or the environment? 

It may feel good to give lots and lots of gifts, but if they overtax your finances, your space, your child's attention, or end up being discarded quickly, your resources are likely better used in other ways. 

“Be willing to set boundaries with relatives or others around you who give gifts to your family,” Schrick said. “If you do not have space for more toys, tell your family. If you would prefer consumable items that don't take up space like gift cards or experiences, make that known. Resentment can build up over time if boundaries are not set or expectations are not managed.” 

What about Santa?

If your child expects gifts from Santa, help them to understand that Santa works with parents and doesn't bring everything they ask for. 

“If you have a lot of resources and will give your children extravagant or expensive gifts, take credit for giving them those gifts yourself rather than giving the credit to Santa,” Schrick said. “Although it may be fun for you, it is difficult for kids who don't get a lot to understand why Santa doesn't bring them as much as their friends.” 

Season of Giving

Schick also noted that “the holiday season is also a wonderful time to go through existing toys and donate unused toys in good condition to local charities or to trade with or sell them to other families.”

For more information on family issues, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.


About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system. 

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.  

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.   

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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2006