Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The First Few Holidays: Learning to Give and Receive.

--> Since the moment a child is born, parents are willing to provide, to the best of their ability, everything that they think a child needs. The younger a child is, the more needs they have. At these early stages parents are exclusively in the role of giver and provider, giving the child everything from tangible things like food and shelter to their warmth and love. Beyond simply trying to communicate that they are tired, or hungry etc. as a child grows, they become more aware of their surroundings and can better express different things that they like or do not like. Parents will notice more clearly if a child, for example, is more drawn to a specific toy, or a particular tree or a bird. Parents will pick up on these clues and give the child things that they will like, such as a blanket with birds if the child seems to enjoy watching birds, or more toys of a certain texture that the child seems to enjoy. Giving something to a child and seeing in their expression that they truly enjoy it is one of the most rewarding experiences for a parent. This becomes much more apparent during holidays when gifts are exchanged.

During the holidays parents will be inclined to want to shower their child with presents to help them join in the happiness of the season. This is the perfect time for parents to exercise some restraint and realize that a little goes a long way. When parents see that giving one thing to a child makes them happy, they will want to give them more things to make them happier. Parents can get lost in a pattern of escalation, which can result in the child being given things that are not for their level of development. In turn, the child may become overwhelmed or even detached and may not show the reaction parents expect despite having gotten them a gift much more “exciting” than the last. Parents might want to refer to this as the child being “spoiled,” when in reality it is simply the child expressing their frustration. In some cases, children may break decorations or knock things over, not out of hatred or malice, but simply to express that they have reached their limit.

It is important to not get too carried away with trying to always outdo the last present. Even though a parent
may want to relive those beautiful
expressions, gift-giving at this early age is not the sole way of achieving them. What is more important is to give the child the time to learn to use new toys at their own rhythm and to be there as their parent when they do. A simple useful toy that a child will enjoy and learn from, presented to them in a patient and loving manner, may not always get the instant gratification reaction that we as adults equate with being grateful, but it will give them a chance to enjoy the gift in their own way.

The honesty that many parents praise so highly in children and often encourage can seem like a risk when that child is given a gift that they may genuinely not be excited about. Many times a child will have a negative reaction to a gift because they will have learned to appreciate the material value of gifts over the action of being given it. To avoid hurting the feelings of the parents, the gift giver, and the child, it is best to have made it clear before that they are receiving a gift because that person cares about them very much and wants to give them something that will make them happy. This avoids putting the child on the spot by asking them, “what do you say?” and praying that they respond with thank you under the pressure of all those present.

By making sure to model gratitude in everyday life towards everyone a parent will already be providing their child the tools they need to express themselves in that way. Inviting children to express, in their own way, their thoughts or feeling towards another person is a way to teach them the value of gift giving. Dedicating time to be present to respond to questions and help, are ways to model that the preparation dedicated to a drawing, a present or a card is very valuable. This will also show them how beautiful it is to give as well. After all, it is the season of giving.