“Kids may be screaming for the latest gadget, but what they want more than anything is time with the family. Make that your biggest gift this year.” – MidnightBliss
"You will always be your child's favorite toy." -- Vicki Lansky
All of us want to make our children's faces shine by gifting them with something special, especially at the holidays. Isn't that what makes dreams come true? Unfortunately, no. In fact, those material presents are a bit like drugs--the lift is temporary, followed by a deeper inner craving. If this cycle is repeated over and over--even quickly, as it sometimes is on Christmas morning--it can become tinged with desperation.
That's because a focus on presents actually fuels the fantasy that material things can give us what we need inside. But that doesn't work, at least for long. So we're always looking for the next "thing" that might do the trick. That makes it hard to appreciate what we have. And it's what puts kids into a frenzy, so they tear through their presents looking for the next big thing, the answer to their cravings.
The truth is, your child IS enough and has enough. That's what you want to communicate.
You do that by taking the focus off presents and putting it back on the meaning of your holiday and the love between you and your child. Since children spell love TIME, make it tangible by coming up with special ways to connect. Here are five simple ideas for connection to get you started. (Don't feel like you have to do them all -- choose one!)
1. Give the gift of your time. In one study, children were asked what they liked best about their summer vacations. It wasn't the fancy vacations or even the time off from school. It was the simple connection time with parents, when the parent was able to relax and enjoy the child without being stressed. Over and over again, children said things like "Lying on the blanket with my Dad, looking at the stars together."
The presents you buy your child will be quickly forgotten. Why not gift your child with the best present she'll ever get -- your focused time? Print out certificates for activities with you and wrap them so your child gets the pleasure of opening a present.
• Brunch out with the parent of your choice.
• Dad's best foot massage.
• Paint your room with Mom.
• Soccer session with Dad.
• Ice cream date with either parent.
• Mom' special manicure.
• Choose the movie for family movie night.
2. Go for a walk together in the dark to look at the Christmas lights. The fresh air melts away stress so everyone sleeps better, the dark night gives everyone a bit of feel-good dopamine because it's an adventure, and the walk gives a nice chance to chat, away from screens.
3. Instead of taking a photo of your child on a bearded stranger's lap reciting lists of material items he covets, take photos of the two of you together -- making Grandma's present, decorating for the holiday, or baking treats for his class party. Send the photos to Grandma with her present, and also let your child glue the photos onto paper to make a little book about your family holidays. Don't be surprised if your child asks for it over and over, or reads it to comfort himself.
4. Let your child fall asleep in front of your tree (if you have one) in a sleeping bag -- with you by her side, chatting softly. You might even have a slumber party, one child at a time, and sleep on the couch next to your child. This will probably become your child's favorite holiday memory.
5. Start a blessing bowl, in which you write down things you and other family members are grateful for, from your year. Just toss them in as you think about them. One evening towards the end of the year, make popcorn or a fire, snuggle up together, and go through the bowl reading each gratitude item aloud. Talk about them together. Make sure you listen as much as you talk, and resist the urge to lecture your kids. Share aloud how blessed your family is -- particularly to have each other.
There's nothing wrong with exchanging presents to express your delight in each other. But keep the focus on connection and meaning, which fills your child inside in a way that objects can never do. That's what makes dreams come true.
- Dr. Laura Markham