What Your Child Needs for ChristmasA Gift List for Parents

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Monday, November 26, 2012

What Your Child Needs for Christmas

A Gift List for Parents

A couple of years ago, Wired magazine ran an article by "Geekdad" about the five best toys for Christmas giving that became an instant classic. These essential toys included sticks, string, cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes, and--last but not least--dirt. (You can find a link to the article on my "Parenting with Cheryl Erwin" Facebook page, which you can access on the Radio page of this website.) Now, I love Christmas and the entire holiday season, but I find myself growing increasingly curmudgeonly around this time of year, as Christmas seeps into Thanksgiving and even Halloween, with the constant pressure to shower children with stuff that they don't need, leaving most parents paying credit card bills (and feeling cranky) well into the New Year.

The holidays, however you define and celebrate them, are a glorious opportunity to connect with your family and to enjoy everything you love about life together. So why is it that kindness, connection, and laughter so often get lost in the rush to craft a "perfect" holiday? Do children really need presents in shiny paper stacked under a tree to feel loved?

The answer is an emphatic "no." So, in the spirit of Geekdad, I present herewith my list of five gifts your child really needs and will truly appreciate. 

1. Your presence. This means more than just sharing space with your child. Being fully present means listening with your full attention, making eye contact, and not allowing yourself to be distracted by the everyday disturbances of family life. Parents often ask me why their children talk so easily to me in my office. The answer is simple: they have an hour of my undivided attention and genuine interest. If parents could learn to offer the same sense of presence, I just might become obsolete. Nothing would delight me more.

2. Smiles. So many of the parents I see look downright grim. Yes, life (and parenting) can be stressful and challenging. But would you want to approach and spend time with someone who looks like you? Take time occasionally to check in with yourself: do you look like a thundercloud, or is your facial expression kind and inviting? When you smile at your child, she's likely to smile back. Try it and see.

3. Touch. Many experts are telling us that we are raising a generation of touch-deprived youngsters. Everyone knows that babies and toddlers need cuddles and hugs, but so do older children, and for far too many of them, the only touch they receive is purely functional--dressing, washing, or, sadly, slapping or pulling. Sometimes, a touch says far more than words: ruffling your child's hair or putting an arm around his shoulder communicates caring in a way that words may not. Hold hands; give hugs and back rubs. Invite physical closeness. Cuddle together on the couch. You may be surprised by how your child responds.

4. Words. Research tells us that children benefit socially and academically from the sheer number of "utterances" spoken to them each day. Hearing lots of spoken language will help your child do well in school and increase her skill with using language herself. Everywhere I go, I see parents not talking to children. They're texting, or talking on the phone, or listening to music on their iPods--but they're not talking with their kids. And there is so much to say to children! Talk about the things you see each day; ask questions and listen carefully to the answer. Read books--lots and lots of books. Get acquainted with your local library. Tell stories about life when you were a kid; act out these stories together. Yes, words can often get in the way of real connection, but they can also open the door to a world of imagination and conversation. 

5. Art. Gone are the days, sadly, when children learned music, drama, and art in school. Nowadays, school is all about math and english testing, but we all need the richness of the arts to make our lives sing. You needn't have talent in order to explore the world of creativity and imagination with your child. Stock up on markers, tape, and paper. Get a roll end of newsprint from the local newspaper and make BIG pictures together. Make forts and time machines out of cardboard boxes. Get kazoos and have a parade. Play music, bang on drums, and sing out loud. Do these things with your child and enjoy the colorful, noisy chaos that results. Learn to laugh and create together, and see what happens.

These gifts will cost you little or nothing, but I can promise you they'll make a world of difference to the life you share with your children. Slow down, breathe deeply, and savor these precious years that speed by all too quickly. I wish you rich hours of holiday magic to savor with those you love, and peace and wisdom in the year that lies ahead. 


| Posted by cheryl | Monday, November 26, 2012|


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