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Help your child deal with Christmas gift disappointment

Even though the true meaning of Christmas is not in the gifts, a large emphasis is often placed on what's under the tree.

Sometimes Santa’s elves don’t have the resources to make a particular toy or item a child wants for Christmas. How can parents help children deal with disappointment at not receiving everything they wrote down in their letter to Santa?

When a child is upset in the midst of all the holiday cheer, parents who are already stretched thin and stressed out can easily become frustrated. They may also feel guilty: after all, isn’t Christmas all about making your child’s dreams come true? And aren’t you failing as a parent if your child is sulking rather than smiling and laughing the day after Christmas?

While parents should never feel guilty – or apologise – for not splurging on Christmas gifts, we can use the opportunity to validate emotions and teach our children that it is normal to be disappointed and that we understand their feelings.

Dr Andrea Gurney, a family psychologist and professor, recommends dealing with your child’s disappointments effectively, no matter what they are disappointed about.

Here are a few of Gurney’s suggestions:


This is possibly the most important aspect of dealing with a dissatisfied child.

“Parents frequently feel like, Oh my gosh, but then I’m legitimising their disappointment, and I don’t want to do that,” Gurney says. “If your child is upset about gifts, for example, the natural reaction may be to say, But you got so many presents, while also thinking, And I spent so much money on them!‘ However, rather than simply allowing your child to be a holiday autocrat, you are validating their feelings and letting them know they are seen and understood.”

Remind your child how fortunate they are

After you’ve empathised, remind your child how fortunate they are. While you don’t want to tell them, Sure, you didn’t get a ski holiday, but you did get a Disney+ subscription, Gurney suggests instead leading with a question. If a child is upset about toys, for example, you can ask them what toys they did receive and discuss gratitude. It’s also fine to be honest with your children, in age-appropriate ways, about how fortunate they are in comparison to many less fortunate families.

The importance of perspective taking

Perspective-taking is also an excellent time to discuss feelings versus behaviour. You are showing your child that they are seen and understood by validating their feelings. However, as a parent, you can also discuss acceptable behaviour. You could say something like, It’s okay to be disappointed by a gift from your grandparents, but it’s not okay to pout or storm off. You can be upset that you didn’t get a new cellphone, but you can’t scowl and lash out at your parents.


Some problems have no solution – and, after gaining perspective, you may need to let your child sit with their feelings for a while. However, if there are potential solutions, you can begin to brainstorm them. For example, it may be possible that your child saves up for the toy they wanted.

In this instance, Gurney advises instead of proposing a method for earning extra allowance right away, you could perhaps say, I have some ideas for what you could do to make some extra money so you can buy the toy you wanted for Christmas in a few weeks. Do you want to hear what those suggestions are?

While this will take more time than simply distracting your child or telling them to get over it, you will be raising a more resilient human being.

“Life isn’t always happy and easy, and we don’t always get what we want,” Gurney says. “When children learn that from a young age, they learn how to deal with those emotions, how to deal with disappointment, frustration, and jealousy.”

They will also learn how to deal with it on their own later in life, both at Christmas and in their adult lives. It’s one of the most significant gifts you can give your child, and you don’t even have to bother wrapping it in a bow.

* This article first appeared in


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