As the holidays approach parents, teachers, and children appear to be geared, more and more, to having a good time. Parents are reminded, via television, magazines, and newspapers that they can make their children happy by buying the big, the right, the ultimate gift. Of course, the more expensive the gift, the happier the children. Children are reminded, as they watch their favorite cartoons, that they too, must have the ultimate gift. They see commercials of toys acting out parts and doing fantastic things the real toy cannot do, but which encourages their desire all the more. This may lead to a disappointed child, better yet, to a frustrated child when the toys do not behave for them the way they do on the television commercial.
Usually all of this hype and frenzy leads to some very stressed out parents and hyper children. We are not advocating giving up on gift giving. What we are saying is that the holidays should be a time for fun and happiness. Wanting to touch the positive side of life may be the greatest gift we can give our child at holiday time. Fostering enjoyment (on the part of the parent) and experiencing joy (on the part of the child) are two concepts we need to learn a lot more about. Before you sigh and add “teach joy” to the list of things you have to do with your children, you may want to think about the following.
Give Verbal Gifts as Part of Holiday Giving
Verbal gifts can be a great source of family bonding, intimacy, and joy when offered together with tangible gifts. Many years ago my family was invited to share a holiday meal with descendants from Eastern Europe. The family celebrated the holiday meal using some of the rituals from their former country. As part of the dinner celebration, a large, round wafer was passed from person to person around the table. The person passing the wafer was asked to offer a few words of appreciation and a holiday wish to the person receiving it. There was no expectation that the wish be something poetic or profound, only that it be a simple sharing of love and appreciation. This ritual was very powerful. I can guarantee that your family will remember the verbal gifts long after the physical gifts have been discarded if you adopt a similar ritual.
Start Your Own Holiday Rituals
Lighting the candles on a menorah, giving verbal gifts, turning on holiday music during dinner, or sharing homemade gifts, can all be made into rituals, as long as they are repeated year after year. To make a ritual:
- Make sure the children and everyone else are involved in the meal preparation and setting the table.
- Wait until everyone is seated before beginning.
- Pass around a wafer, join hands, say a few words of joy, lower the lights and light candles, or sing a song. This creates a sense of ritual, of this being something more important and special than an ordinary time together.
- Make sure everyone is included in the conversation. This may be challenging for families with young children, yet it is important that they feel included in what is being said.
- Avoid disciplinary talk and “conflict” talk. This is not a time to reprimand children for things they may have done in the past or force children to eat everything on their plate. Correct children only when necessary (i.e., Mary hitting Billy).
- No one leaves the table until everyone is finished.
- Conclude the meal by wishing everyone a happy holiday by singing a song, or by sharing a kiss.
Rituals are an important part of holiday joy. Through the sharing of these small rituals, may you and your family experience the joy of knowing how very special all of you are. Happy holiday!
Dora Fowler, MBA, is founder and executive director of the National Institute of Child Care Management. She is also the founder of the National Association of Child Care Professionals.