What if Santa can’t afford Christmas?

My friend’s daughter had glanced at the news while she was playing and suddenly ran to her mother and asked, “Mommy, what if Santa can’t afford Christmas this year?” She had witnessed the effects of the pandemic that included isolation, sickness, and financial strain.

Not wanting to lie to your children but also not wanting to scare them, it’s important that parents sit with their children and explain that times are tough right now. Many families are struggling to get back on track financially while their children have holiday wish lists as big as the bills. Parents will be more effective at teaching their children the true meaning of the holidays – sharing and caring for others – when they mentor responsible spending and honest, gentle answers. My friend’s daughter asked a serious question in her 7-year-old mind. Here are five important tips that can be used again and again as the holidays grow closer.

1. Santa has nothing to do with money. Santa is about feeling loved and cared for. The toy you love most and that will make you feel most loved is the one Santa will try his best to get. It is important that, as a parent, you help guide your child with gift requests. If you know your child wants a $100 toy and you can only afford $20, then suggest another toy that would make your child feel just as loved. Don’t do this in a critical manner, but in a loving, supportive manner. Something such as this, “I know you want that toy, but that is so much money for one toy. What other toy could you get that would make you feel just as loved?” If you do this with a loving tone of voice, you are teaching compassion, understanding, and problem solving.

2. Reassure your child that adults like the spirit of the holidays, too. They are not going to let a Christmas go by without celebrating. No matter who you are or how much you make, you should make every effort to celebrate with your child. Children learn from the ritual and the spiritual concepts that surround the holidays.

3. Make the focus of the holidays on friends and family. Look at “wish lists” but also promote thinking of others. Children can be egocentric at young ages, which means it’s more important for parents not to be. Children who turn into generous, compassionate, and loving adults were nurtured by compassionate and generous parents. You don’t have to be wealthy to be generous. In fact, many times the two are negatively correlated. Acts of kindness may include sorting out gently used toys or books that are no longer age appropriate and going with your child to donate them to a shelter or a neighbor in need.

4. Parents need to set a budget for gifts and stick to it. The best gifts of all are the ones that cost the least but speak the loudest of love and caring. The idea of giving a gift is thinking of what the person would like or letting them know how they touched your life. A pair of gloves or mittens with a quote inside that reminds you of your loved one is a wonderful gift and will not be tossed away or forgotten.

5. Let your children know that a pandemic (or other hardships) may take away possessions we thought were important, but it will never take away the love of their family. Santa may not be giving out as many gifts, but that’s okay because you have the best gift of all – each other. Children (and parents) who are reassured that their family is strong and loving build resilience and security.

Reassure your children that although they may not get the biggest, most expensive toy this year, the holidays will have more love than last year, because with each passing year you are more grateful to be their parent.