What is it about the winter holidays that stimulate so much emotion?
Here are some words of wisdom from Fred Rogers:
The winter holidays recall feelings of warmth, generosity, light, and love. Almost every family has some traditions for the winter holidays. Often, those traditions awaken both our senses and our memories. When we think about the holidays, many of us quickly think about food. For most of us, food is tied to nurturance and love, to good tastes and good feelings of satisfaction.
When most of us were little, warmth was experienced as pleasurable. The winter holidays, for many of us, bring sharp contrasts between warm hearths, warm hugs, warm laps, and the coldness of the season.
The winter also brings strong contrasts between darkness and light. The lighting of candles at Hanukkah drives away the darkness. Most of us recall the twinkling lights of Christmas, from candles in church to sparkling lights outside of houses and shopping malls.
Holiday songs and carols often bring strong feeling of times past as well. Long before we could understand the words or hum the tunes, we likely experienced the closeness and security that accompanied the warmth of being cuddled by our parents.
Most people say it’s their family traditions that make the days special for them. Traditions can be like anchors that help us feel more secure and stable. They can be especially important when families feel the frenzy that sometimes comes with the holidays. Some traditions from the past may not work well for children today. So, families tend to develop their own traditions. We may be surprised at how little it takes to make a day feel really special.
Winter holidays can bring with them high expectations. Some adults create so much excitement about holidays that children come to think of them as the most special days of the year. Adults can get caught up in wanting to create the “perfect day.” They feel the pressure from the media as well. The loudest message of the season, shouted from millions of television sets, newspapers, and magazines, seems to be “To spend more is to love more and to be more dearly loved.” What a seductive message, especially for parents! But of course, that’s not true or realistic.
Nonetheless, the desire to try to make the holiday a perfect day, can easily lead to disappointment for children and adults. It’s only natural that such heightened anticipation might lead to expectations that can never be met.
Even if expectations are met, it can be hard for a child to receive too much of anything—gifts, food, attention—at any one time. In fact, it can be just plain overwhelming for children to receive so much of everything. They may wonder. “How can I make up for all this? How can I ever say ‘thank you’ enough? How can I ever be good enough in return for all of this? There was so much confusion and so many presents, I can’t remember what I got.”
If expectations are not met, the day might bring tears and arguments leaving parents feeling, at the end of the day, that their children never appreciated any of it. “We did all this for you, and why aren’t you happy?” There’s a letdown that turns that “perfect” day into a big disappointment. Of course, no one wants to disappoint a child; however, an important part of being parents is helping our children cope with disappointment.
Children sometimes ask for gifts their parents can’t afford or don’t feel are appropriate. We can help children learn early on that there are limits to what people can have. Some parents have told their children, “We can’t buy everything you want. We don’t have enough money for all that. We need money for our home, food, clothes, and taking care of the other things that you need and we need.” If parents are willingly supportive, they can help a child face disappointment and grow from it. And coping with disappointment is a “gift” that they’ll be able to use all their lives.
Helpful Hints for the Winter Holidays:
- Find some quiet time before the holidays to ask your child what traditions he or she has enjoyed over the years. They may be the ones you want to make sure to preserve.
- Involve your child in the preholiday activities by working together to make name cards for the family meal, making cookies, creating holiday cards, or setting up the candles. Participating gives children an important sense of belonging.
- Before going to another home for a family gathering for the holidays, let your child know what to expect. Talk about what you know about the house, your memories of being there (if you’ve been there as a child), and the guests who might be there.
- Commotion and crowds can be over-stimulating for children and make it harder for them to control their impulses. Try to be aware of when your childbegins to be stressed and go to a quiet place with your child to lie down for a while, to look at a book, or to take a walk. Once children become over-stimulated, exhausted, fretful, or just plain out of control, it’s harder for them to settle down. They need to feel confident that their parents will help them get back into control.
Fred’s Favorite Gift Suggestions
The gift of who you are: “The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.” If you like to make things out of wood, or sew, or dance, or style people’s hair, or dream up stories and act them out, or play the trumpet, or jump rope, whatever you really love to do, and you love that in front of children, that’s going to be a far more important gift than anything you could ever give them wrapped up in a box with ribbons. And what’s more: the last thing in the world you have to be is perfect at it. It’s the spirit that gives that kind of gift its wings.”
The gift of caring: “We’re all on a journey—each one of us. And if we can be sensitive to the person who happens to be our ‘neighbor,’ that, to me, is the greatest challenge as well as the greatest pleasure. Because if you’re trusted, the people will allow you to share their inner garden—what greater gift!”
The gift of small things: “Some of the best things to celebrate are the small moments that happen in everyday life, like seeing someone help another person, learning something new, or noticing a beautiful sunset, a pretty flower, or a flight of birds. When we can take the time in the midst of our busy world to celebrate things like that, we’re nourishing our children and ourselves. In easy times and in tough times, what seems to matter most is the way we show those nearest us that we’ve been listening to their needs to their joys, and to their challenges.”
A closing quote from Fred Rogers:
“How I wish that all children in this world could have at least one person who could embrace them and encourage them…somebody who would let them know that the outsides of people are insignificant compared with their inside to show them that no matter what, they’ll always heave somebody who believes in them.”
Strategy Song from Daniel Tiger: Making something is one way to say “I love you.”