A friend told me about decorating her Christmas tree last week with her 2 year old and 4 year old. The 2 year old went to bed before all the ornaments were unpacked. When she came downstairs the next morning and saw the finished product, her reaction was, “What a mess!”
Holidays are filled with moments when we work hard to impress and please our children, who then completely miss the point and do what children do best: See things from a child’s perspective.
Part of the dilemma is that the holidays are filled with “firsts.” Distant relatives visit, we go to unfamiliar places and everyone strives to create memories for their children that will surpass their own for wonder and excitement.
Even for 3 and 4 year olds who have been through this before, memories are still hazy or even nonexistent. The incredible growth in conceptualization that occurs over a year makes every event a “new” one. In our eagerness to thrill and excite our children over and over — with gifts, with trips to see reindeer, with family gatherings — it’s important to remember that overload can set in quickly. Just being out of school for two weeks is a new routine. And children thrive on familiar routines.
At times of stress, whether it’s excitement or worry, pay attention to how things may look or feel from the perspective of your children and recognize that your best intentions for thrilling them will often be misinterpreted. Listen closely to their words and observe their behavior. They may even be astute enough to try to mask their own anxieties in an attempt to please you.
Gift-giving is fraught with these pitfalls. It’s common and cute to see an 18 month old playing more happily with the shiny paper than with the doll inside, but even preschoolers can surprise us with their unexpected reactions to what we thought would be the perfect gift. (It’s tough when it’s from Aunt Maude and she’s sitting right there!)
It may not be the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the gift, but just the fact that this is one more new thing to process. One of the best gifts we can give our children is to stay in tune with the difficulty of processing so much novelty. For each child the maximum number is different — and lower than yours.
Have a wonderful, calm holiday. And when you look at things through your child’s eyes, I hope you can appreciate the “mess.”