Helping children really appreciate the season

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It’s happening again. We’ve all seen it before. A mother rushing along the sidewalk or through the mall, pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a 3-year-old who, in danger of having her shoulder dislocated, is half-walking half-trotting in an effort to keep up.

The holidays are here. The media is ratcheting up the excitement and the stores are inviting us in with glorious decorations, repetitive holiday music and shelves overburdened with things to buy. We are beginning to feel a little overwhelmed and as though we couldn’t keep up either. We wonder how one dictionary could ever have defined “holiday” as, “That period of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

In the rush of it all, what can we do to keep the children, particularly the preschoolers, in mind over the next few weeks?

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” you might object. “We constantly keep them in mind as we rush about buying them toys so they will have plenty of gifts and won’t be disappointed if they don’t get what the TV is urging them to ask for. We make sure they have special clothes to wear and we hurry to get their pictures taken with Santa. What more do you want us to do?”

We Grandmothers got together and after admitting that we, too, get caught up in holiday excitement, decided to suggest the following ideas to young parents. It might help.

Take a minute to try to see things from young children’s perspective, since we all insist that these holidays are for the children. Doing so might result in fewer frantic moments and less exhaustion for everyone. Perhaps your children really aren’t so keen on having a picture taken with Santa. This you may observe if you stand watching preschooler after preschooler scream when lifted onto the bearded man’s lap.

Perhaps being pulled along through the malls trying to avoid the oncoming legs is not much fun either. It’s even possible that a mound of toys that one is required to open in a few hours’ time is quite overwhelming.

So decide whether a picture with Santa or a trip to the mall is worth the trip, the wait and the anxiety it often causes our young children. Take a second look at that shopping list and consider shortening the part that’s devoted to gifts for your kids and think about how, at this busy time, your child can actually be helpful taking on some of the holiday tasks with an enthusiasm you lost several Decembers ago.

Consider setting up a place at home where things can be made by your preschoolers and wrapped as gifts. Kids love to help make cookies or decorate butcher paper with handprints or potato prints to use as wrapping paper. Any mess can be cleaned up faster than you can go to a mall, find a parking space, lift your preschooler out of his car seat and keep track of him as you run from store to store.

More important, the times you are quietly spending with your child and the inner pleasure she feels as she makes the gift, gives it and is showered with appreciation far outweighs the time it takes to “clean up.”

When your holiday involves travel to visit a friend or relative, prepare your children for what will happen. We take so many things for granted and forget it is all new to them. They may erroneously think, as one grandmother’s grandchild did, that they won’t be returning home. Young children fill in missing information with their own private assumptions often not voiced because they are afraid of what they may hear. “Where will I sleep? Will there be a bathroom there? What’s a kennel and what will happen to Muffy? Will someone feed him? Will we ever see him again?”

Or maybe you are going to be the hosts, and household members will be shifted to other rooms to make room for grandparents or friends. If this is a surprise to your preschooler, be prepared for embarrassing tears of objection. A discussion ahead of time about the change, about how hard it can be to give up a room for a few days, with a concrete description of exactly where everyone will sleep, often helps alleviate any upset. Being a part of the alternative plan and feeling the welcoming attitude of a mother and father beforehand enriches the experience in ways that live well beyond these holidays.

Explore our kindergarten and preschool programs. For younger children, our parent/toddler program provides developmentally minded fun.


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