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Preschool Education Articles

What Your Children Really What This Holiday Season

Chances are your children have a long list of gifts they'd like to receive during the holidays. Are you frustrated because they don't seem to understand the spirit of the season? Maybe they just need some coaching. According to Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli1 [in their book *Unplug the Christmas Machine*, pp. 55-64], children really want four things during the holiday season.

1. Relaxed and loving time with the family. During the holiday season, lives become crowded with program practices, shopping trips, and parties. Even when parents are at home, they are often busy with holiday chores, plans, and money worries. Lots of gifts and attention when the holiday arrives won't make up for your absence now. "Children," say the authors, "want love in a steady, constant way."

They advise setting firm priorities so you can give your children the attention they need. Consider turning down some social invitations to spend more time with your family. You may decide to order gifts from a mail-order house to save time shopping.

2. Realistic expectations about gifts. Children who think only about gifts at this time of year can feel terribly let down when the holidays are over. Their new toys can't possibly be all they thought they would be after they've waited for them for weeks. Robinson and Staeheli suggest making other parts of the holiday as exciting as opening presents.

"Children," say the authors, "want and need their parents to define the celebration for them." Talk with your children about gifts and your own sense of values. Then plan family activities in which gifts play only one part. Shift the focus from receiving to giving by making special treats or crafts for neighbors and friends, a homeless shelter, or a crisis nursery.

Also, plan exciting family activities to look forward to before and after you open gifts. "That way," say Robinson and Staeheli, "gifts start taking their rightful place in the activities." They also suggest teaching your children the difference between commercials and regular television programs. Robinson and Staeheli believe that as powerful as commercials are, a parent's influence can be more powerful. They suggest watching an hour of television with your children and having them yell "Commercial!" each time a new one appears on the screen. Then talk about what you have seen. Help your children learn that the purpose of advertising is to sell products.

3. An evenly paced holiday season. Because stores start cranking up for the holiday season sometime around Halloween, children wait and wait for the holidays to arrive. Then, when the last gift is unwrapped, suddenly it's all over. Robinson and Staeheli suggest postponing important family traditions until a week or so before the holiday. They also suggest saving a few for the week after the main event. For example, consider hosting a potluck dinner for family and friends a week after the holiday.

4. Strong family traditions. Traditions are important to children because they give them comfort and security. They help children understand how the season will unfold, and they bring back happy memories of past holidays together. Robinson and Staeheli say that most families have more traditions than they realize and that even simple traditions will do. They advise asking your children which activities mean the most to them. Then, be sure to do them every year.

Give your children these four gifts and you'll give yourself a lovely present as well. You'll spend more time doing the things that really matter and less frenzied time at the mall and the toy store.

Robinson, Jo, and Jean Coppock Staeheli. 1982. *Unplug the Christmas Machine*. New York: Quill.

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Picklesimer, P. (1995). What your children really want this holiday season. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *Child care connections*, 5(2), Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.

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