How To Deal With Disappointed Children At Christmas

Christmas is a special time of year for all of us, and expectations are always high, particularly when it comes to small children. Trying to make magical memories for them requires much time and effort on the part of parents, not least a large injection of cash.

Many of us are having to tighten our belts this year due to the cost-of-living crisis this Christmas. And you may very well be in a position where you simply haven’t been able to afford to buy your child everything they’ve put on their Christmas list.

So how do you cope with a child whose face drops on Christmas morning when they open their gifts and didn’t get the present they wanted?

There are no hard and fast rules, but Hippychick has a few suggestions on how you can keep your cool, when the tantrums get tough.

child dressed as elf opening christmas present

Manage expectations in advance

Disappointment normally stems from a realisation that expectations have not been met. So try and deflect from the gifting side and shift the focus to other elements that will be part of your Christmas day festivities. This could include the arrival of a much-loved relative, the flaming of the Christmas Pudding, singing carols and learning jokes to tell around the Christmas table. This strategy will also help to lay the foundations for your children to recognise what truly matters at Christmas – and those things don’t necessarily come in gift-wrapped boxes.

Exercise empathy

Empathy is key. While your gut reaction may be to think, or even blurt out ‘you spoilt brat, I’ve worked so hard and spent so much money’, what you should actually be doing is validating their feelings and letting them know you have taken on board their disappointment – and understand it.

It may be helpful to know that there is genuine brain science behind a reaction to disappointment. 

All human beings who are upset often experience “amygdala hijack,” or a process, similar to fight or flight, when your body takes action without any conscience input from you.  Whilst adults may be able to prevent a hijack, a child’s reasoning part of the brain isn’t yet developed.  So they will be much less able to control it.  Empathy can do a lot to calm the amygdala and thus your distressed child. 

child's hands holding happy and sad faces

Stay calm and acknowledge your child’s feelings

What’s important is to listen to them and try and explain to them in a way that they will understand that it’s OK to feel disappointed as well as to show it. Encourage them to talk about it and share their feelings. Disappointment is, of course, part of life’s rich tapestry, and showing them how to deal with this emotion from a young age will set them in good stead for the future.

Engage!

Encourage your children to try and explain their feelings of disappointment.  You can gently help to guide the direction of the conversation so they gain their own understanding of their feelings.  It’s infinitely better to do this so they can help themselves to reframe the situation in their own way. 

mum and child sat on sofa talking

Encourage them to self-soothe

What self-soothing skills does your child employ when they need comfort?  It may be a blanket, a pacifier, a favourite toy, twiddling their hair or just simply cuddling with you on the sofa.  Suggest they try it when they are disappointed so it becomes a ‘go to’ coping strategy for the future

Let them learn from you

A good exercise is for you as a parent to think about how you cope with disappointment.  Children gain so much of their learned behaviour from you, so they will almost certainly imitate the way you react.  You could even indulge in some relevant role play with your child before the big day, if you’ve time to fit it in between decorating the Christmas tree, wrapping the presents and preparing the turkey (we don’t blame you if you don’t!).

Reinforce unconditional love

When your child is disappointed, see it as a wonderful opportunity for you to tell them how much you love them, regardless of how they behave.  A loved child, who doesn’t feel that they have to fulfil any conditions to maintain your love, will be a happy child in the future. 

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