By Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, www.ahaparenting.com
“Television advertisements for toys and games often exploit children’s underlying needs and desires. Many commercials show a child playing with a game or toy with her parents. The message is clear to young children: Ask for this product and your mother and father will pay attention to you. It is an offer they cannot resist.” –Lawrence Kutner
Worried that your child seems to get a bit greedy at the holidays? Consider that maybe something deeper is being triggered—a longing for that happy, perfect life when he’ll feel completely enveloped by your love. We adults have the same fantasy, of course. It’s part of the wonder of the holidays— that promise of transformative love.
The human mind has a tendency to crave more, more, more. Kids (like many adults) haven’t yet learned how to manage those yearnings and direct them toward what will really fulfill them, which is connection, creativity and spirituality (whether your definition of that is God, Nature or Love).
And it is possible to fill our children’s deep longings. Not with excessive presents—which always leave kids feeling unfulfilled—but with deep meaning and the magic of love. How?
1. Explain to your child that your December holiday is about “presence” or time together, not about “presents” – and then keep your promise! When he asks you to do something with him, why not leave the dishes in the sink or your email unanswered for now? Sure, you were going to make that homemade wreath or menorah, but if you can’t do it with your child, who cares about it? (If you do it with your child, it won’t look perfect, but you’ll treasure it forever. As will she.)
2. Manage Expectations. Ask your child to carefully consider his desires and tell you four gift ideas:
- A store-bought gift that is within your means (this may take some back and forth discussion)
- A book he wants to read.
- A “together” present that you will do with him, like going to the zoo.
- A “giving” present that he can gift to someone else, like making cookies for the senior citizen home or stuffing stockings for kids in a shelter.
3. Model your values by prioritizing family activities that savor the deliciousness of your holiday. Every day, do one thing to bring your family together, whether baking, gift wrapping or simply enjoying the twinkling holiday lights together in the dark. Read and discuss books on holiday themes. Minimize the focus on shopping and store-bought presents.
4. Give your child the experience of abundance in simple ways. You can let your kids revel in that feeling of abundance while still sticking with your values and your budget. If you’re gifting him with a trip to the zoo, print out a photo of his favorite zoo animal and a simple certificate, and wrap it, complete with ribbon. If she loves lip balm, buy four flavors and wrap each one separately. If you baked and decorated cookies together to take to all the older folks when you visited Aunt Sue, be sure to take photos. Then print out a certificate of Commendation for Generosity with his name on it, along with a photo of a happy cookie-eater and your child, and wrap it with a ribbon and a cookie in a plastic bag. That will probably bring as big a smile to his face as a toy, especially when you regale everyone present with a story about how happy he made the senior citizens.
5. Give your child the gift of playful responses to things that you’d normally get irritated about. When she resists your instructions, be mock horrified. Scoop her up and throw her around, making a rambunctious game of it. Interpret every “misbehavior” as a request for fun, loving connection. (If you need to “teach” appropriate behavior, do it later.) This is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. You’ll be so pleased by how much more cooperative she is that you might adopt this approach permanently.
6. Minimize stress and fill your own cup so you’re in a good mood, living the spirit of the season and spreading love and good cheer. Your kids don’t want a magazine-spread holiday. They want your love and appreciation and joy. Prioritize getting sleep and taking care of yourself so you can give your child your best—not just what’s left.
No matter what they think, kids don’t need the latest toy from Toys“R”Us or the latest electronic gadget. Those are just strategies to feel good inside themselves. And the only way that feeling lasts is when it comes from love.
Consider the memories your kids are shaping this December. When they look back, will they describe a parent who communicated the spirit of the season with laughter, warm embraces, gracious patience? You ARE that parent, inside. Do you need to let go of anything so you can express all that love and joy? What could you do to make it easier for you to be that parent?