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Dec 14 2022

Setting Expectations for Kids

Author: Sue Horwitz, AFL Client Coach

My son is now grown. But I remember how difficult I was on him during the holidays. My inner perfectionist took over, and I wanted a picture of him adorably dressed and happily posing in front of a magnificent tree. Of course, he would love all his presents. But this was my dream. In his reality, he would only wear a bat-man tee, made silly faces for photos and turned his nose at gifts I bought for him.

After a few years of holiday suffering, I knew I was the problem. My expectations for my child were unrealistic. I needed to alter those expectations to improve my holiday.

First, I had to stop imagining my holiday as “Pinterest” perfect. That meant being realistic about how my family lived and acknowledging all of it was good enough. So instead of micro-managing the photo shoot, I got the best possible picture sometimes in front of the tree or at the holiday table – wherever was good enough. I can now look back fondly at these memories.

Growing up in a Jewish family, I longed for a picture-perfect tree for Christmas. A novice, I stood aside while my son and his dad hung the lights on our first tree. After they went to bed, I re-hung them, crushing everyone’s self-esteem the following day. Finally, with consideration, his dad suggested that the next year we talk about what each of us wanted on the tree so that the tree was perfect for us. My son won on colored lights, and I got red and gold Christmas baubles. My husband got peace. Today my son and I look back on the pictures with happy memories and pride.

All that good gluttony of holiday food is rough on kids. Constantly saying no to every sweet treat request ruined my holiday and my son’s. So early in the season, we made a deal; he could pick a holiday treat after meals when he ate something good and hydrated regularly. There were always good healthy snacks on hand, and then there was a small, sweet treat.

Long, drawn-out dinners are complicated for kids to sit through. They naturally fidget and squirm. I tried many distractions. Letting my son go after each course worked until he decided he did not want what I was serving next. The lesson, make something your child will come back to the table and eat. My son is a people pleaser. He knew people at the table wanted to be with him, and he was usually content with being there to be adored.

A kids-table served friends who had multiple children and guests. One host asked a mom and a dad (not a couple) to supervise, thus making it more difficult for kids to manipulate their parents. In addition, she supplied a small coloring activity for the slow parts of the meal.

My best advice to parents struggling with the perfect holiday is to make “perfect” reasonable for you and your situation. Then, use the time to slow down, be grateful, and share love and patience with yourself and your kids.

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