Managing Children’s Holiday Expectations

Released: 12/9/2013 1:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Family Institute at Northwestern University
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Newswise — (Evanston, December 5, 2013) – Parents want to look good in their kids’ eyes. For many moms and dads, looking good means providing the “stuff” the kids are hoping to receive. It means being successful enough to be generous, to not have to say, “No, we can’t afford it,” or “Sorry, it’s not in the budget.” When society measures success by how fat a bank account we have, we measure ourselves by that standard and don’t want to fall short in our own — and in our children’s — eyes.

These pressures are particularly palpable during the holiday season. We often think our kids will be disappointed if we can’t measure up to their expectations at the holidays, and when we think it’s our job to keep them happy, we shudder at the thought of disappointing them. Dr. Aaron Cooper, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University and author of I Just Want My Kids To Be Happy (Late August Press, 2008), is available to comment on these issues and provide expert tips to parents as they set and manage their children’s expectations during the holidays.

Working parents are often at risk for trying to overcompensate during the holiday season, as they may carry guilt about not spending more focused time with their children. “It’s an often unconscious wish that our material generosity will make up for our time away (or time in front of our computers),” says Dr. Cooper, “and so we want to deliver at holiday time some real abundance.” That material generosity, however, is merely a substitute for the ways we feel we’re short-changing our kids, and that, Dr. Cooper points out, makes disappointing the children doubly painful.

According to Dr. Cooper, it’s important to set and manage children’s expectations around the holidays because children are, from their earliest years of life, learning to become knowledgeable consumers. The constant barrage of advertising and embedded consumer messages in children’s TV programs only feeds their hunger for demanding possessions. This messaging makes kids susceptible to unbridled consumerism. “’I want, therefore I am’ is one ethic of contemporary childhood,” explains Dr. Cooper. “Parents are wise to counteract this philosophy in its earliest stages of development.”

To do so, Dr. Cooper lists three strategies for setting and setting and managing children’s expectations around the holidays:
1. Let the children know early on that there will be a limit to the number of gifts they will receive, and they should figure out and tell parents which items are most important to them.

2. Let the children know that the holidays are a time for giving as well as receiving, and that with mom and dad’s help, the children will determine ways to give to others.

3. Review with the children the proper etiquette around receiving gifts — how to properly acknowledge the gift and show appreciation — especially when the gift isn’t quite what one had hoped to receive.

To learn more about Dr. Cooper or about The Family Institute, please contact Colleen O’Connor at 312-609-5300 ext. 485 or, or visit us at

ABOUT THE FAMILY INSTITUTE AT NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY - The Family Institute at Northwestern University ( is committed to strengthening and healing families from all walks of life through clinical service, education and research. An affiliate of Northwestern University, The Family Institute is a unique, innovative not-for-profit organization, governed by its own independent Board of Directors and responsible for its own funding. The Institute offers a wide range of high quality mental health counseling through our staff practice and our sliding-fee scale Bette D. Harris Child and Family Clinic, where we are committed to serving at-risk, under-resourced communities. The Family Institute also operates two nationally-renowned graduate programs in marriage and family therapy and counseling psychology in affiliation with Northwestern University, and conducts cutting edge research projects that lead to a better understanding and treatment of mental health issues.