For many parents the pressure’s really on at Christmas time. Perhaps you wish you felt less anxious at a time which is meant to be filled with joy and celebration. Maybe you’re concerned about whether your kid will be disappointed with the present(s) you’ve got (or not got) them, or with Santa’s response (or lack thereof) to their letter – the hugest or most expensive list of ‘I wants’ in the whole wide world. Maybe you couldn’t buy them what they really wanted, or chose not to.
So your kid opens their present on Christmas day and their face drops. It’s not what they wanted. Nor is the next. Nor the one after that. All the presents are open now and none of them are what your kid was really hoping to find. Maybe tears come, possibly a ginormous tantrum in a room full of relatives and friends. So now what? What do you do?
There’s really no point in trying to console you kid with comments like, “But look what you DID get! This is such a lovely present here … and you got all of THESE … and you got this from grandma!” (whilst wondering how on earth your kid turned out to be so ungrateful).” If you don’t like something you don’t like something. Nothing anyone else says will change that much. Put yourself in your kids shoes for a moment. If you really, really, really wanted something and you got something else that you couldn’t care less about, how would you feel? If, on top of that, someone tried to distract you from your feelings by offered you a piece cake or the chance to do something fun, would you feel better or worse. You might feel a bit better, but just superficially – still those feelings are there for you inside. As an adult you might be able to hide disappointment better than your kids, but receiving stuff you don’t like or want can feel disappointing for anyone, irrespective of their age.
If you were a kid and you were disappointed and your mum told you to focus on what you did get, how might you feel? If your kid’s disappointed, let them be. I don’t mean walk away and leave them to wallow in it. Be with them. Allow them to feel and be present to what they’re going through inside. Let them be with and go through that disappointment. You don’t have to fix it all the time. You don’t have to try to take it away. It’s ok for them to go through it. It’s important that they do. That emotion too will fade, quicker if you allow your kid to go through it rather than distract them with what they should be pleased about or distract them with going outside to play or eat some cake.
But to do this, you also need to not be scared of their big feelings and their big expressions of disappointments.
Also, you could ask them to tell you what it was that they really wanted (if you don’t already know). You could let them know that you understand why they’re upset and that you know how that feels. They may start crying. Instead of responding with, “Don’t cry. It’s Christmas. It’s a time for us to all be happy (or whatever you might be wanting to say in an attempt to move on and make them feel better), you could say something like, “If you need to cry just go for it. I’m here for you and I can listen to you if you want me to.”
An upset kid (or adult) feels so much better when they’re aren’t distracted from their feelings and when they’re acknowledged by someone else. If you want to give your kid a great gift this Christmas – acknowledge those big feelings when they come up and let them come.
Another thing you might do, to show them you understand, is to share with them about a time when you felt disappointed. Keep it relevant in size to what you think your kid might be feeling right now. Maybe you remember a time when you really wanted something you didn’t get. You don’t have to share with them about whether or not it all ended happily either. The point is that you’re acknowledging how they’re feeling in that moment. You could share about how upset you felt and how hard that was for you. Whether kids or adults – most of the time people just want to be understood. Being really listened to and heard and acknowledged is an awesome thing. Better than any material gift – the gifts here are priceless – listening, connecting, caring, understanding, compassion. You know how good it feels. Put aside distraction and pass that on this Christmas.