During the holidays, it's easy to get stuck on gift-giving autopilot. It doesn't have to be this way. Why not give your kids nothing for Christmas and make lasting family memories instead?
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This time of year is exhausting for even the cheeriest of holiday revelers but, for young children who are experiencing all of this hooplah for the first, second or third time, the flickering lights, sugar overload and destruction of daily routines can become downright agonizing. They show us this in their behaviour, so you can expect more testing and tantrums to go along with your Christmas cookies and stocking stuffers.
Children under six years old are constantly taking in information about their surroundings. Their young brains are working to learn as much as possible about the world but can't yet filter out the noise and chatter. The result is that children become overwhelmed much more quickly than adults.
Around the holidays, when new experiences and anticipation reach a fever pitch, your child's ability to cope self-destructs before you can say "Santa Claus is coming to town."
So keeping things simple is key.
Think about the values you're teaching
Children under six years old are literally building their future selves through simply living each day. Every experience is formative at this tender age, so it's important to consider exactly what you want to convey to your children about the meaning of the season.
Is it about that frantic dash to the overcrowded mall? Do you want them to learn that more presents under the tree is the path to greater satisfaction?
How about beginning a tradition of giving to others, rather than receiving more than we need? And, if you simply must wrap a gift, remember that, for young children, less really is more. If you limit the number of gifts your child receives, they will appreciate each one that much more.
Each family will differ in how they prioritize their personal beliefs and favourite traditions. One of the best parts of parenting is seeing these celebrations through your child's eyes, and passing down to them the spirit of the season, as you see it. The holidays are a great time to sit down with your caregiving partners beforehand to discuss your values.
Maybe you'll decide it's not about what's under the tree but rather about how you spend this fleeting time with your little people.
Give them your time, instead
Because that's what they want. In an age of screens, busy schedules and working parents, the best gift you can give your child is always your undivided attention.
In years to come, your teenager might remind you of "that time we careened down the neighbourhood hill on homemade sleds" or "the time we made up our own version of 'The 12 Days of Christmas' and then performed it (homemade props and all) for Grandma."
The options for holiday-themed activities are endless. Bake. Craft. Volunteer. Read books curled up under a cozy blanket. Explore your city in all its lit-up glory. These will form new family traditions that revolve around quality time spent together. And, isn't that the real reason for the season?
Prepare your child for holiday events ahead of time
And one final piece of advice.
To help them navigate the holidays — whether it be photos with Santa or a family gathering — try preparing your child ahead of time and checking in with them throughout the occasion. Tell them where you are going, who and what they will see there and what you're going to do after the event. It's good to have a calm, familiar something to look forward to while the mayhem is in full swing.
Then, keep tabs on them. Are they tired? Hungry? Thirsty? Agitated? Sugar-addled? All of these are natural reactions to the holidays for any person, let alone a young child whose brain is in high gear already. Sometimes leaving the party may be the best way to help your child (and yourself) thrive during the busy season.