How to avoid spoiling kids at Christmas without turning into the Grinch

We’re about to hit peak Christmas spending. For weeks children have been bombarded with ads for the must-have toys and gadgets, leading to their overly ambitious Christmas lists to the big man being reviewed and revised countless times.

Naturally this makes for a frenzied festive period as parents desperately try to tick off children’s must-wants in a frantic bid to avoid seeing little faces of disappointment on Christmas day.

But while mums and dads might be pulling out all the stops to track down a Baby Yoda (this year’s Hatchimal in case you were wondering), there’s a real danger we could be setting kids up to expect to get everything they ask Father Christmas for?

“It doesn't matter what type of shopper you are - a Christmas Eve-r or, a 'let me book these tickets a year in advance', shopping Santa for your kids can tip you over the edge of reason, as Bridget would call it,” explains certified child play therapist, Amanda Seyderhelm.

It's easy to slip into spoil mode at Christmas [Photo: Getty]

So why do parents do it to themselves?

“My theory is we are making up for all the times we short-changed our kids during the year - as if a house size pile of shining wrappers is ever really going to fill that hole,” Amanda suggests.

Thankfully, there are some tricks and tips you can put in place now that will ensure you still have happy little faces on Christmas morn, without maxing out your credit cards or turning into the Grinch.

Here’s our expert-backed tips on how not spoil your kids this Christmas.

Be realistic!

And manage their expectations. “As Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier, young children will have been the message that the big day is 'just around the corner' for a long time before it actually comes, which means their levels of excitement and expectation are going to be high” explains Alistair Bryce-Clegg, early years specialist from Channel 4's ‘Old People's Home for Four Year Olds’.

“As adults it is important that we acknowledge how children are feeling and that a lot of the build up to Christmas is out of their control.”

He suggests parents can support children by talking to them about how they are feeling.

“Give them some realistic time frames like 'how many sleeps' until the big day and remember although it is an exciting time for children it is also the time when their routine and diet change significantly and this has a direct impact on their behaviour,” he adds.

Stagger the gift giving

We’ve all been there on Christmas morning when your little one disappears under a see of discarding wrapping paper as they move onto the next gift, but this can be avoided by staggering the giving throughout the day.

“Lots of children are lucky enough to get a number of presents on Christmas day. If they are given access to all of their gifts at once, they can switch into 'unwrapping autopilot', where they just pull off the paper and add the gift to their growing stack,” explains Alistair.

“This is not great for the children or the person who selected and wrapped the gifts. If your child is lucky enough to receive multiple gifts, then try and stagger them throughout the day. That way children have something to look forward to as the day goes on, but also they will pay more time and attention to the gifts they have received.”

Try and keep some routine

One of the special things about Christmas for children is that they get to do lots of special and out of the ordinary things. “Their environment looks different, both at home and at school, they will come into contact with people that they might not see as part of their usual social network and they will engage in activities like parties that are both exciting and exhausting,” explains Alistair.

But children respond really well to a routine. Research by Seven Seas Cod Liver Oil has found a daily routine gives kids emotional security, so sticking to their usual routines during the festive period can help keep children grounded.

“When the routine is going to be different, talk it through with your child,” suggests Alistair.

“Christmas is absolutely a time for treats and special food but research has shown that high sugar food can have a detrimental impact on children's behaviour so try and keep the excess to a minimum,” he adds.

Children can be overwhelmed by lots of gifts on Christmas morning [Photo: Getty]

Build in 'down time'

Whilst planning all of the exciting things that we want our children to experience with us over the festive period, it is also really important that we plan in some 'nothing time'.

Alistair explains that these are periods of time when everything is not focussed on Christmas. “Times when as a family you can 'catch your breath',” he says.

“Even if it is just 10 minutes to turn off screens and read or tell a story. These are also good opportunities for adults to talk about how they are feeling and how they are managing those feelings.

“This is a great model for children around how positive it is to talk whilst also giving them strategies to understand and manage their own feelings and behaviour.”

Focus on the giving not just the receiving

“For most children the anticipation around Christmas is about what they will get,” explains Alistair. “We encourage them to write lists of things that they want. TV and social media will bombard them with images of things that they think they need to have.”

But this can generate a high level of expectation in children which can result in feelings of disappointment when they don't get what they want.

“Whilst adults find it easy to say 'It is just what I have always wanted' children don't and this can result in them expressing their feelings in a way that adults find inappropriate,” Alistair says.

“It is really important for us to focus on the giving aspect of Christmas with children and also talk to them about the thought and meaning that goes into the giving of a gift even if the gift is not what they wanted!”

Take the WRAP UP challenge!

According to Amanda this festive parenting hack is based on the principles of spending time, energy and motion - the Three Wise Gifts.

W = Wear the reindeer jumpers. Be the family who wears them with pride!

R =  Rock the dance floor with your kids - create playlists and have fun.

A =  Advent for others - put a handmade craft into a box everyday for other kids.

P =  Play charades for kids, they will love acting out their stories.

U =  Use up leftovers and get cooking, baking gingerbread muffins with your kids.

P =  Perform a family Christmas Carol, make stage sets, costumes, glug kid-friendly egg nog!

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