Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Gift Giving and Opening

Christmas morning, or any holiday that gifts are involved, is a great learning time for children. Remember, learning is not a mundane activity for children (or, at least it shouldn't be!), but it is how they take in the messages from the world around them. I'm often asked what presents are appropriate to give, and here is my general response. Don't believe the marketing hype! Children do not need bells and whistles for them to enjoy a gift, in fact, children often tire of those gifts quickly because they not using their skills to play with them. Try choosing gifts that are kid-powered instead of battery powered. They will work on using their own creativity and imagination skills, not the preset stories or games that are being fed to them. I also advise to stay away from commercialized gifts, not to stick it to the man necessarily, but to allow the child to take that toy wherever his or her own imagination takes them instead of scripts that have been seen in the movies or television programs. Also, limit gifts to just a few special ones (and retire an equal number to charity) to avoid neglected toys that could be put to good use by another child. Children easily become overwhelmed with holiday gifts and the WOW factor wears off as more and more gifts are opened. A few gifts will be more meaningful than many. Ask yourself how many holiday gifts you remember. When your children are opening gifts, allow them to use each gift for as long as they like. This is how they explore and appreciate, when they are going at their own pace, rather than an assembly line of open, put aside, open next one.

Most importantly, let your child be very excited about giving gifts to someone else, whether it is a homemade gift or a gift they help you pick out at the store. Show them how special it is to give. This year my daughter made coasters to give to her family, and delighted in telling them that she painted them. Next year, we will begin charitable gifts as well.

Enjoy your time with your family and your traditions. It is one of the most special gifts you can give your children.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

To Santa or not to Santa?

At this time of year, especially because this is my daughter's first Christmas that she is aware of the season, parents often ask my views on Santa Claus. Most children have difficulty differentiating between fact and fiction. For most, this does not happen until about age seven. So the path I am choosing is to let my daughter know who Santa is (right now that he is a man with a white beard and he wears a red suit), but I won't ever tell her that he brings her gifts, comes down our chimney, or is a real person. Eventually I will share the myth of Santa Claus and what nice stories they are. There are several reasons for this. First, and most importantly, I do not believe that it is all right to lie to your child. They do eventually find out that there is no Santa and wonder why you have lied to them, for years no less. Will they get over this hurt? Yes, but why cause it? It may lead them to wonder what else you are lying about, especially important if you are a religious family because they cannot see god either. I want to respect my daughter and her intelligence. There are so many wonderful, beautiful realities in the world to learn about. Especially during the holiday season. I would much rather her concentration on those. Secondly, how unsettling to know that a strange man can come into your house through the chimney, or however else someone might say Santa comes in. This can lead to a variety of fears in the night. As for my students, I know that this is not a view many families share, so we talk about the cultural significance of Santa and if they ask questions about whether he is real or not I tell them that that is something excellent to ask their parents. My daughter is 21 months old, so I do not need to worry yet about her telling another child that Santa isn't real, at this point she is just identifying the character of Santa. When she does reach that age, we'll talk about how some people like to pretend that he is real and that we should be respectful of that. We'll also talk about how the spirit of Santa is real and is inside people. When she's old enough to understand that. For now, he's the guy that rode the fire truck in our hometown.