12/23/2014 11:08 am ET Updated Feb 21, 2015

Avoiding Christmas Morning Meltdowns

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I know it's the season to count our blessings, but it seems like my children are never satisfied. Part of me is dreading Christmas morning, when at least one of them has a meltdown because they didn't get everything on their list. I feel ashamed of my kids, knowing how many children go hungry, let alone don't get presents. How can I convince them to be happy with whatever they are given on Christmas?

In today's world, children are bombarded with the promise of happiness if they can just get the right toys, clothes, gadgets and gizmos. It's not easy to neutralize those messages, even if we deliver heartfelt lectures about how there's more to life than "stuff." Here are my thoughts:

• There is no substitute for living your values. If your children see you constantly scanning catalogs or going online to place an order every time something catches your eye, they will naturally follow suit. Make sure they see you enjoying what you have, rather than heading to the mall whenever there's a sale, or you "need" a new outfit or device. The less interested you are in stuff, the more your children will follow suit.

• Allow your kids to be disappointed. Children are passionate about having as much fun as possible. If they believe that life will be more enjoyable with a particular game or gadget, they will be sad if that item doesn't magically appear. Acknowledge their disappointment with a kind word, and resist the temptation to talk them out of their upset.

• Avoid guilt trips. Don't scold your kids for wanting what they want, or make them feel guilty for being better off than less fortunate children. These tactics only generate shame, which is a terrible feeling to foster in children.

• Give back regularly and often. There is nothing quite as gratifying as looking into the eyes of someone you have helped and witnessing their relief or appreciation. Make sure you provide your children the opportunity to take part in activities that infuse their lives with meaning.

• Provide your children with what they most want and need. I have worked with a wide range of families, from those at the poorest end of the spectrum to those with tennis courts, swimming pools and private chefs. Here is what I have learned: What makes children happiest is knowing that their family is a loving, caring unit. Create unstructured time to talk, listen, tell jokes, snuggle, paint, play games, hike and just be together and your kids will mysteriously lose interest in that brand New! Improved! XJC-21 device. There simply is nothing better than love.

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

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