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How to tell kids Santa is having a tough time

Children may wake up to fewer presents under the tree this year. And some of their much coveted items may be missing.

Here’s how to prepare them for a more economical Christmas:

Be Honest

Have an age-appropriate conversation with your children about your financial situation, says Bonnie Harris, author of “Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With.”

Teens can certainly understand financial difficulties and learn a valuable lesson, she says. Explain that until finances are more stable, spending on items that aren’t necessities will be tighter, she said.

For younger children, she suggests saying something along the lines of that the whole country — a big family — has to cut back so all the little families have to help out and spend less too. Even Santa has less.

Brenda Nixon, parenting speaker and author of “The Birth to Five Book: Confident Childrearing Right from the Start,” cautions against revealing too much detail. Be honest, be brief and keep it light, she says.

“Don’t lay the load of an adult issue onto a child’s shoulders,” she says.

Take Their Lists

Let your children put as much and whatever they want on their wish lists, says Harris.

Then as the holidays get closer, explain they need to pick four or five things from the list, she said. Ask them to write a couple of sentences telling you why that particular item is important.

Vicki Courtney, author of “5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter,” told her three children, ages 15, 18 and 20, to give her a list of reasonably priced items and prioritize them.

“I also mentioned that if you are wanting something big, talk among yourselves and figure out if this can be a family item,” she says.

Don’t Lead Them On

If your children are not going to receive a much coveted item, let them know that it’s very possible it won’t be under the tree, says Harris.

Beth Feldman, 39, founder of RoleMommy.com, told her children they wouldn’t be getting an iPod for Hanukkah last year. She advised them to save their allowance for it.

Gerald P. Koocher, a psychologist and dean of the Simmons College School of Health Sciences in Boston, also suggests giving the child an IOU along with their other presents, agreeing to contribute to the cost of the item.

Involve Them Iin Giving

When you shop for other family members, take the kids with you, says Harris. Gift giving is a subtle way to teach them about money and spending.

Discuss what each person might like and how much money you have to spend on it.

“The delight in participating in present-giving or presentmaking is often bubbly and contagious,” she says.

Disappointment is OK

If your children are disappointed with their presents or lack of, let them know that it’s normal and understandable , says Harris.

Don’t shame children for wanting things. It’s age appropriate for children to want what they want when they want it, she says.

She suggests something along the lines of, “‘You feel angry that you didn’t get what you wanted. I don’t blame you.’ Discuss what it feels like to be disappointed. Explain that sometimes anticipation is more exciting than getting the desired thing.

Don’t call them ungrateful; that will only heighten the child’s frustration, says Koocher.

Tell them that you would have liked to get them what they wanted, he says. Offer a substitute plan if possible: “If I save some money and you save some, we might be able to get it in a couple of months.” Remind them that you love and care about them, he says.

Worst Case

Avoid under-the-tree meltdowns by making sure you respond to disappointment.

If your child throws a tantrum, take her into another room lovingly — not harshly, says Harris. Wait until she has calmed down enough and say, ‘I’m here for a hug when you are ready.’

Give her comfort and reassurance; don’t make her feel guilty, she says.

“Once it’s all out and she’s cried and cried and you’re still there and you’re loving her, then she’s going to be very ready to make amends,” she says.

Explain to other family members that your child had a big disappointment, and with so much excitement surrounding the holidays it was hard for your child to contain all her feelings, says Harris.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Finally, give yourself permission to have a financial setback, says Nixon. If you are feeling guilty or regretful, children are going to pick up on it, she said.

Remember there are things you can give them that costs nothing — your love and attention, says Koocher. And those are far more valuable.

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