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Great expectations: How does a parent handle a kid's long Christmas wish list?

| Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, 9:32 p.m.
The Pierce family — (from left) Aaron, 15, Tracey, John, 6, Todd and Trinity, 9, gather around the Christmas tree in their Brackenridge home.
Erica Hilliard  |  Valley News Dispatch
The Pierce family — (from left) Aaron, 15, Tracey, John, 6, Todd and Trinity, 9, gather around the Christmas tree in their Brackenridge home. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

Trish Beam's children offer up wish lists every Christmas, but neither she nor Santa Claus fulfills their every desire.

Beam's son Shane, 8, has asked for a dirt bike and an ATV, but Santa won't bring gifts that are too dangerous. Her daughter Megan wants an iPad.

Beam's system is to get each child one big gift along with some smaller ones. She steers her kids' attention toward giving to others, by going shopping with them for toys they will donate to Toys for Tots.

“I do what I can ... but I can't buy 10 $300 gifts,” says Beam, 40, of South Park, a teacher at Highlands Middle School in Natrona Heights. But, she says, “I think they just look through the catalogs and write stuff down. It's not necessarily what they want.”

Whether a family's budget is tight or abundant, fulfilling a child's lengthy wish list can be a challenge. The holidays can create pressure for everyone with expectations — especially for parents, who feel they must wow their kids on Christmas.

“These days, Christmas really has become a time where parents feel like they have create magic for children, and the magic consists of children getting everything they want,” says Margret Nickels, director of the Chicago-based Erikson Institute Center for Children and Families. “There is something about the expectation that it's only magic when you give many, many different and big-ticket gifts. In the end, each kid has their favorite gift. The rest get unwrapped, played with once or twice, and they're yesterday's story.

“We almost teach our kids to consume gifts, instead of to enjoy them and make use of them,” she says.

Nickels recommends that parents sit down with their kids, even before the holiday season begins and explain that they have to stick to a budget. Parents should tell their younger kids that even Santa has limits: There are only so many toys he can fit in one bag and sleigh, and he has to serve all the world's children.

Santa “has other kids to take care of,” Nickels says. “Communicate something about limits to your child. ... There are many more kids that need Santa to bring their presents.”

That is what Donna Wiser told her now 40-something children, Troy and Kendra, when they were little. The kids went through several catalogs — like Sears, JCPenney and Spiegel — and picked out the things they wanted. Their lists were pages long.

“After they wrote this list, they looked at it, and I said, ‘You have to cut that down, because Santa Claus has other kids to take care of,' says Wiser, 69.

“So, they would cut it in two, then pare it down even more,” says Wiser of Saltsburg, Indiana County. “They were picking only what they really wanted. They understood that if you want something big from Santa, you can't get a bunch of little things, too, to be fair to everybody.”

For years, Tracey Pierce, 38, of Brackenridge has dealt with her three kids' wish lists by taking them shopping. She and Aaron, now 15; Trinity, 9; and John, 6, pick out the gifts they want, then Pierce decides whether Santa will deliver those gifts.

“In my head, I would keep a limit,” Pierce says.

She puts the approved items into layaway, where Santa picks them up Christmas Eve.

Nickels recommends, as a possible paring solution for a long list, giving each child just one big gift, rather than several. Or, just trim the list overall.

“If they get an iPad, that may be the only gift they are getting,” she says. “If they want 15 things, maybe the budget is for 10.

“We would do our children more of a favor in the long run to support them in managing limits, rather than trying to fulfill their every wish,” Nickels says. It's the way life is for adults, too: Most of us can't go out and buy every Mercedes Benz we want, she says.

Val Hoffer — a therapist with Harmar-based Family Services of Western Pennsylvania — says she has seen many children write humble letters to Santa saying things like: “I am hesitant to ask you for anything, because I have a lot.” Then, there are those with a long list of wishes.

Hoffer recommends that parents sit down with their kids and be honest with them regarding parents' or Santa's limitations, depending on the child's age.

“Just be honest with your children ... and give them a chance to be responsible about understanding that,” says Hoffer, whose office is in Natrona Heights.

Even well-to-do parents who can afford to buy everything on a child's list shouldn't necessarily do that, she says.

“Children need to learn not to have immediate gratification” Hoffer says, and not get everything they want.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7824.

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