The holidays are here! What a magical time of year for young children. The traditions, the family gatherings, the food, the fun, the merriment and…of course…presents.
The latter can be tough for many parents. In a season filled with the pressure to produce unending joy, never-ending smiles and happiness for our children, it’s easy to get carried away with overindulging them. Every television commercial, story, song and signal from the media includes children being greeted by plethora of shiny wrapped presents. Of course, this is what retailers would like us to believe is what the holiday season is all about.
Yet that’s probably not what most parents want for their children. Parents want to foster a sense of joy and happiness that doesn’t come from a Toy ‘R Us or Amazon. So how do we demonstrate that value to our young children, while still keeping them happy and maintaining our sense of sanity? Here’s a few tips to follow:
1. Stop thinking that being unhappy is a bad thing. All year long, but especially now, we do whatever we can to avoid letting our children feel a little blue. But feeling down or sad is actually not a bad thing. Sadness is a very real, human emotion that we all have. It’s better to let kids feel sadness, anger and disappointment and help them learn how to cope with those feelings, than try to avoid them. So, when they don’t get everything on their holiday wish list and they feel a little sad, it’s OK. Really, it is.
2. Think about giving experiences versus material items. Try to plan outings with the kids during the holidays with family. These trips – to the tree at Rockefeller Center, a local performance of the Nutcracker or even ice skating – will be the cherished times they remember as they grow up, not the present they did or didn’t get. And, yes, we all have at least one memory about the time we asked for a horse and instead we got a pair of socks, but, aren’t those the stories we share with our adult siblings and laugh about now?
3. Books, songs and activities help explain the season. It’s the little things that help kids understand the reason we celebrate holidays. It’s the songs we sing, the types of books we read and the little activities, like baking Sufganiyot at Chanukah or cookies at Christmas, that reinforce the message: it’s about a belief and tradition, not a gift card, that makes this time of year special.
4. Don’t be afraid to limit the amount of gifts. When Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, cousins and friends bring over bundles of gifts during the holidays, it’s OK to limit the amount you give your kids. Keep some items in storage and let kids unwrap them during other times of the year (you may want to change up the wrapping paper). They don’t have to be given everything at once. Especially for smaller kids, this can be very overwhelming.
Remember, as a parent, you have the power to set the tone for the holidays. The more we keep routines, stand firm with discipline and control the chaos, the happier the holidays will be for everyone. Don’t forget to treat yourself, too! Plan some quiet moments with your partner of just do something to relax and enjoy. The holidays can be stressful, so pace yourself and don’t forget to breathe.
We’ve all been there: you’re out in public with your young child and someone different — skin color, weight, disability, anything, really — and your child blurts out something innocent. Maybe it’s “Mom, did you see that guy in a chair with wheels?’ or “Dad, why is her skin a different color?”
Even though it’s said with complete innocence, it’s usually said in an above normal ‘toddler voice’ for all to hear, leaving you cringing and embarrassed. My ‘moment’ came when my daughter, then 3, met our babysitter for the first time. She asked her if she was going to have a baby. Our sitter said no, then my daughter asked ‘then why are you so fat?” It was an awkward moment. But it taught me I had some work to do about what it means to be different and what is and isn’t polite to say to people. From then on, I made it a point to talk to all three of my children about how we’re all different and the fact that we don’t all look and sound the same is a good thing.
Here are a few pointers for helping kids understand diversity:
- TV isn’t so bad (when it’s used to show people in other cultures). Unless you’re planning an extended vacation visiting several continents, TV is a great resource. This is one of the few times I turned to TV to help me parent, as opposed to the majority of the time I limited time in front of the screen. Sesame Street does a great job of showing how different we all are, as well as some videos. Take time to watch with your child and explain if they have any questions.
- Talk and teach. Start discussions with your child about how different things look. Don’t just limit the discussion to people. Talk about how different cars can be, houses and trees. Point out the differences and relate them back to how each thing is different but just as valuable and beautiful.
- Read and repeat. There are some great books that teach children diversity in people. People, written by Peter Spier, shows that all people have different cultures and backgrounds. There are some beautiful illustrations and even discussions about different foods. Try some new recipes or restaurants that show your child a different culture and use those experiences as ‘teachable moments’ to engage your child in discussions.
- Encourage questions. Remember that kids are naturally curious and inspire them to ask questions. Show them you’re curious, too. Explore, through books, shows or even travel, other cultures and open their minds to the beauty and diversity of our world.