SIKESTON -- Some parents may be wondering how their children will react if there are less presents under the Christmas tree this year.
The adults may be surprised to learn how much their children will understand if Santa doesn't deliver his usual load of gifts later this month.
"Parents and all adults should never underestimate the child's capability to learn the true meaning of Christmas. ...Kids are very capable and eager to get into spirit of giving," said the Rev. Geoff Posegate, senior past of First United Methodist Church in Sikeston.
Due to the economy, the children's ministry director at First United Methodist Church decided to forego the usual Christmas program or play this year. Instead Sunday school students are involved with collecting, wrapping and distributing gifts to local residents in need, Posegate said.
"They're very excited about it," Posegate said.
Parents shouldn't assume it's hard for a child to understand them -- whether talking about the meaning of Christmas or tough times brought on by the economy, Posegate said.
"We adults teach children the value of a materialistic world. They're open to alternate values as well -- and they can get it," Posegate said.
James Figley of Sikeston, who plays Santa at various Santa visits in Sikeston, said he plays off parents and guardians to clarify wishes when children tell him what they want for Christmas.
"I'm always making sure I have eye contact with the parent or guardian and try to be aware of what they're doing. The time and economy we're living in may be not be conducive to allow parent or guardian to purchase this," Figley said.
As a result, Figley said he tries to encourage children to come up with alternative presents.
"The whole purpose is not wanting to discourage the children but to provide additional options. I'll say, 'If you don't get this, what else would you like to ask for?' They usually have several ideas," Figley said.
Posegate suggested parents should look at the economic situation not as a problem but as an opportunity to teach values to children they want them to learn anyway.
"When they're the actual givers, that changes how high a value they place on the things they're getting," Posegate said. "They think: 'I don't need that much' or 'I don't need big things.' They see how neat it is to make someone who is less fortunate happy."
Susan Freed of Sikeston agreed. Freed volunteered with the Community Christmas Basket Campaign for many years. Her now 14-year-old son, Dalton Freed, started helping when he was 4 years old.
"I wanted him to see it for himself," Freed said.
And he did. Dalton said he saw and learned a lot over the past 10 years.
"It changed me a lot," Dalton said.
Dalton would help with sorting canned goods or toys almost every evening for several weeks leading up to delivery day for the Christmas Basket Campaign. When he was about 6, he also started helping deliver baskets to families, which involved visiting basket recipients' homes.
"I learned there's a lot of other families not as fortunate. Used to, I thought Christmas was all about presents, and then I started to realize there are some people out there that don't get a lot of presents," Dalton said.
Christmas is about being around family, Dalton said.
"I just learned some people don't really have much and the same opportunities," Dalton said.
Over the years, Dalton witnessed the poorest living conditions in the region. He remembers a couple of houses where the families didn't have heat, and there was snow on the ground.
"Their house was just as cold as the outside. The kids were just running around in their underwear. They didn't have on shoes or socks," Dalton recalled.
Dalton said he recommended families volunteering together to help others in need.
"I think it can show your kids a lot of responsibility and not to take things for granted," Dalton said.
Today Susan Freed couldn't be more proud of her son.
She said: "My whole goal was for him to learn to give to others -- and he has."
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.
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.
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.
The Associated Press