The Santa Question

This is a controversial subject, so we’re going to work up to our main point gradually.

The Tooth Fairy

No parent that we’re aware of takes great pains to protect the true identity of the Tooth Fairy. Maybe that’s because by the time a child starts losing teeth – at about 6 – he’s already well aware that there’s no good reason for someone in a tutu with wings and a wand to go flitting from bedroom to bedroom gathering up the baby teeth from the world’s first-graders. What could she possibly do with them all?

Then to confirm his suspicions that some hoax is involved, you wake him up in the middle of the night feeling around under his pillow, or you fall asleep before he does and neglect to switch the lost tooth for a silver dollar until he reminds you. But he doesn’t complain; he’s happy for the extra cash and he enjoys the game.

The Easter Bunny

That a rabbit would hop about carrying a basket, hiding eggs and delivering jelly beans is a story so silly that a very small child could see through it. She loves the fantasy of it, however, as well as all that candy that she’s actually allowed to eat before breakfast on Easter morning.

But it wouldn’t ruin her day at all if she were to catch you hiding the eggs. She understands imaginative play full well and would know right away that you’re just pretending.

Superman and Wonder Woman

Children enjoy pretending they are these all-powerful characters, and we adults can easily understand why they would: Children are small and comparatively weak, while these superheroes are neither.

You let them wear bath towels as capes around their shoulders and fly about the house saving captive dolls and rescuing endangered teddy bears. You only intervene if the furniture seems threatened, or if the children appear to actually believe that they could safely leap out of windows.

But they don’t. They understand it’s all fantasy play and so do you.

Hannukah Charlie

For some reason he never did make it to the big time, maybe because he was just thought up as a Santa Claus substitute. Which brings us to …

Santa Claus

On the one hand there are those who, for religious, moral or psychological reasons, want him done away with:

He represents greed, they say, not the true spirit of Christmas; parents who demonstrate their love by making or buying elaborate gifts for their children should not give that overweight, bearded virtual stranger the credit. Parents should not tell lie after lie to their children about how he gets into their house even though they don’t have a fireplace – or why he appears in every store and on every street corner even though there’s only one of him. Or how he can manage to get to the millions of children in the world in only one night, etc. He doesn’t really exist and we should tell our children, so they say – and the earlier the better.

On the other hand are those parents who still half-believe in Santa themselves:

They tell their kids that Santa “sees them when they’re sleeping and knows when they’re awake” so they’d better behave or Santa won’t leave them any presents. They start decorating the house with red-suited icons shortly after Halloween, insist that their kids visit a department store Santa and sit on his lap even if they scream in protest, and maintain the Santa myth until their kids are well into their teens.

Which way to lean on the issue of Santa is up to the individual family, of course. But our recommendation would be for moderation. The fun about believing in Santa is not lost when the pretend aspect of it is acknowledged. It’s probably a good idea not to frighten your children with Santa – either with his all-knowing ability to know if they ate all their peas or fed them to the dog; or with forcing your little one to sit on the lap of someone she never met and doesn’t care to. But go ahead and play the game.

Pretend along with your child that there really is a sleigh pulled with reindeer and a North Pole where elves create shiny toys. But you needn’t lie and connive to perpetuate the myth. Pretend that Santa brings gifts to your house on Christmas Eve, but if you’ve spent many hours building a dollhouse or saved up for months in order to buy that special bicycle, let your child know that those gifts are from you.

Speculate with your children about how Santa manages to do all those miraculous things, but don’t be afraid to explain that it’s all magical make-believe, pretend. Just like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Wonder Woman and Superman are pretend. Very real, but still pretend. Who knows better than your child about pretending?

And don’t keep all the fun for yourself. Let him pretend to be Santa too.

Image courtesy of Ron Bird/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Keeping holidays focused on the children

It’s happening again. We’ve all seen it before: A mother rushing along the sidewalk or through the mall, pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a 3-year-old who is pasted along her thigh, half-walking half-trotting in an effort to keep up.

The holidays are coming. The media is ratcheting up the excitement and the stores are inviting us in with glorious decorations, repetitive holiday music and store shelves overburdened with things to buy.

We are beginning to feel a little overwhelmed and as though we couldn’t keep up either. We wonder how the dictionary could ever have defined “holiday” as “That period of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

In the rush of it all, what can we do to keep the children – particularly the preschoolers – in mind over the next few weeks?

“Oh for goodness sakes” you might object. “We constantly keep them in mind. We rush about buying them toys so they will have plenty of gifts. We make sure they have special clothes to wear and we hurry to get their pictures taken with Santa. We push our time limits to take them to see the big-headed characters in the downtown shopping center. What more do you want us to do?”

Perhaps we should all take a minute to try to see things from young children’s perspective, since we insist “These holidays are for children.”

Doing so might result in fewer frantic moments and less exhaustion for everyone.

Perhaps your children really aren’t so keen on having a picture taken with Santa. This you may observe if you stand watching one preschoolers after another scream while being hoisted onto the bearded man’s lap.

Perhaps being pulled along through the mall trying to avoid the oncoming legs is not something that is fun. Perhaps a mound of toys, to be opened in a few hours is, in truth, overwhelming.

“Yes,” you agree, “each year we do resolve to calm it down – next time But each year we get caught up in the excitement and the guilt we know we’ll feel if we let someone down.”

We Grandmothers got together and, after admitting that we too get caught up in holiday excitement, decided to suggest the following ideas to young parents. It might help.

1. Let your preschoolers help you

Decide whether a picture with Santa or the trip to the mall to see the big-heads is worth the trip, the wait and the anxiety it often causes for young children.

Set up a place at home where things can be made by your preschoolers and wrapped as gifts.

Kids love to help in making cookies or decorating butcher paper with handprints or potato prints to use as wrapping paper.

Any mess can be cleaned up faster than you can go to a mall, find a parking space, lift your preschooler out of his car seat and keep track of him as you run from store to store.

More important, the times you are quietly spending with your child – and the inner pleasure she gets as she makes the gift, gives it and is showered with appreciation – far outweighs the time it takes to clean up. 

2. Prepare them for what’s happening

When your holiday involves travel to visit a friend or relative, prepare your children for what will happen. We take so many things for granted and forget it is all new to them. They may erroneously think, as one o four own grandchildren once did, that they won’t be returning home.

Young children fill in missing information with their own private assumptions that often never get voiced because they are afraid of what they may hear.

“Where will I sleep? Will there be a bathroom there? What’s a kennel and what will happen to Spot? Will someone feed him? Will we ever see him again?” There are reasonable questions for a young child who has little experience with such holiday hubbub.

Often people come to visit and household members are shifted to other rooms to make room for grandparents or friends. If this is a surprise to your preschooler be prepared for embarrassing tears of objection.

A discussion ahead of time about the change – about how hard it can be to give up a room for a few days, with a concrete description of exactly where everyone will sleep – often helps alleviate any showdown.

Being a part of the alternative plan and feeling the welcoming attitude of a mother and father beforehand enriches the experience in ways that live well beyond these holidays

3. Reduce the burden on yourself

We can take a cue from the breaking news each year that the “Black Friday” shopping rush has overtaken a little bit more of Thanksgiving Day, as employees implore management to “please respect our families and allow these rare times when we can be together.”

The times children remember as most special are those when parents themselves are able to relax and enjoy special time together.

Though it may be difficult at first, mothers and fathers can reduce the times when they are feeling they have to rush along with young children plastered to their sides to get it all done. Make these holidays “those periods of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

 

 

Handling holiday disappointments

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sings Andy Williams over the PA system in Walmart – and as we pile gifts in our shopping cart we halfway believe it.

Grumpy Ballerina

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The kid riding in the cart, eyeing the decorated artificial trees and the life-sized cardboard Santas and the aisles and aisles of toys sincerely believes it.

His favorite TV shows, his nursery school teachers, the Santa on whose lap he sat last week at the shopping mall, his older siblings and playmates have all convinced him of it. Everyone is as happy as happy can be during holiday time because they’re all going to be given exactly what they want, and a few things they never even imagined, besides.

And then the crash comes. Maybe it’s because her divorced mom and dad didn’t get back together as she had hoped they would after all.  In fact, dad didn’t even show up;  he just left a gift under the tree. Maybe it’s because she got the flu and spent most of Christmas throwing up.

Maybe it’s because she got in a fight with her brother over a toy they both wanted and got put in “time out” by an unusually crabby mother. Maybe she didn’t get that puppy she had asked Santa to bring her. Maybe it looked to her like her sister got way more presents than she did.

Whatever the cause, if she knew the words, she would tell us that she is terribly disappointed. And if she did, we her parents would be terribly disappointed.

Feelings on the fridge

Of all the developmental tasks that we hope our growing child will successfully master, none is more demanding on the growing parent than the child’s learning to express his feelings. We tell ourselves that we want him to feel free to tell us when he is angry, or sad, or frustrated, or annoyed. We are hopeful that if he acquires a complete feelings vocabulary, he will be able to cope with these emotions.

We want this so much that we even have a chart of them posted on our refrigerator, stuck with a magnet at his eye level, illustrated with cartoon faces. The cartoon labeled surprised has eyes as round as and two-thirds the size of its circular face; the cartoon expressing furious has gritted teeth and eyes reduced to slits; the one designated exhausted has its tongue hanging out one corner of its mouth, and more.

Feelings on the fly 

We faithfully practice using these words ourselves. When our child has a temper tantrum in the grocery store, we hold our own emotions in check while we intone, “Are you feeling angry that Mommy won’t buy you the cereal with the chocolate chips and marshmallows in it?  But you see, Mommy is feeling worried that if you eat that kind of cereal, you won’t grow up to be healthy and strong.”

Coming to grips with feelings

But then comes the inevitable day when our child breaks our heart with her grief over her goldfish dying, or her best friend abandoning her, or Christmas not turning into the golden day it was supposed to be.

And we want to instantly rush in and fix it, wipe away the tears, offer a new goldfish, a different friend, a candy cane, whatever it takes to make her stop telling us how sad she is.

Even worse is when something we have done – or haven’t done – is the cause of her unhappiness. Or when after all our efforts and accumulation of bills she isn’t appreciative of what we have bought and wrapped and put under the tree. Then we want to tell her how to feel, to move quickly to the other side of the feelings chart, to joyful and proud and excited, not to mention grateful.

And then there’s the matter of her missing the daddy we sent away without consulting her.

Words won’t make the feelings disappear

The developmental stage we’re talking about here is, in fact, not our child’s, but ours.

As parents, we need to learn to tolerate the emotions that our child’s feelings evoke in us. First we need to realize two things:

  1. Expressing and managing feelings is not the same thing as eradicating them.
  2. If we encourage our children to express their feelings, we’d better be prepared to listen to some feelings that we didn’t really want to hear.

Painful feelings will remain painful no matter what we say, no matter how we encourage our child to talk about them. They are his feelings for him to own and live with, and we cannot get rid of them for him – nor should we try.

The point of our child learning to use the words on the feelings chart is not to overcome them, but to express them more exactly and satisfyingly than he might otherwise.

Preparation helps

This holiday season we don’t want to sound like Scrooge, but we can at least prepare our children for the inevitable disappointments.  One way to do this would be to ask our son or daughter what they are anticipating, and then explain, if necessary, that some of their more extravagant expectations just aren’t likely to be realized.

Then we need to work on our own unrealistic expectations for the holiday season and be prepared for not only our own disappointments, but our children’s.  We’ll be able to listen and empathize, and offer our understanding along with a consoling hug – then return to the family celebration as if disappointments were a natural part of life. Because they are.

Even at holiday time.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A holiday wish: Simple delight in your children

What quality would we Grandmothers most ardently wish for you parents of young children in this final, bustling season of the year?

Well OK, you didn’t ask, but we’re going to tell you anyway. Not patience, not insight, not mediation skills, not tolerance for mud and messes, not the ability to survive your busy day on three hours of sleep, not immunity to childhood illnesses, but delight. Delight in your children.

At this time of year you’ve doubtless had many opportunities to observe Scrooge as he emerges, thrilled to be alive after his visits from the three ghosts. Remember how he gleefully greets the boy whom he sends to get the turkey for the Cratchit family? “An intelligent boy! A remarkable boy!” he says. “What a delightful boy! It’s a pleasure to talk to him.” When, in fact, the boy hasn’t done a thing remarkable.

This is the kind of delight we would like you to be finding in your children during this holiday season and into the New Year.

Easy to dismiss that with a Bah, humbug, or some 21st-century expression that comes more quickly to mind, we’ll grant you. But hear us out.

Yes, they wear you out, both physically and mentally. Their needs are constant and usually come at inconvenient times. They whine, they fight, they demand, they spill their red drinks on your white carpet. But the fact that they exist, these miniature people, and grow and change so fast and miraculously, is truly delightful.

Look at how much they learn in a month, let alone a year. Wasn’t he struggling to stand up only a few months ago, and now he can run? Wasn’t she speaking in one-word sentences last spring, and now she talks in paragraphs? Scrooge was right: It’s altogether remarkable.

If you’re having trouble working up some delight in the kid who just gave himself a training-scissors haircut the day before his  preschool photo, picture yourself leaning over his bed when he’s asleep and the little twinge you get in the area of the heart as you contemplate how beautiful he is, how infinitely precious.

Remember – and maybe you don’t have to go so far back in history for such a memory, this being the season – how teary you got when she and her classmates stood up at the daycare holiday party and sang Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer? Most of the rest of the kids were standing there scratching their behinds or singing off-key, but your daughter was singing right on pitch, every word, louder than all the others. Or maybe your kid was one of those doing the scratching, but wasn’t she absolutely adorable?

And think of the cute things he’s said, the antics that you’ve described to your co-workers or called up your mom on the phone to share. What about when you asked him to pick up his toys and he said, “But I just can’t want to do that right now!”

Remember the time that you were so sick you couldn’t get out of bed, but somehow she climbed up on the kitchen counter without breaking her neck, got out the peanut butter and jelly, and made you a sandwich?

Remember how delightful the way he looks at the world because to him it’s fresh and new, and how unexpected but understandable the way he interprets what we say because he finds our adult vocabulary puzzling. Ten years ago, one of the Grandmothers’ grandsons, when told that Aunt Irene’s body was in the closed casket at her funeral, asked, after a long pause, “But where’s her head?” and we’re still laughing about it.

You have your own stories to tell, your own cute things your children have said to share. Please send them to us. And this holiday season and beyond, try to look at your children through Scrooge’s eyes – the transformed Scrooge, that is.

Your child is without doubt the most remarkable, delightful creature on Earth. Even when he’s just standing there, plastic scissors in hand, hair sticking up in six directions.

 Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Helping children really appreciate the season

It’s happening again. We’ve all seen it before. A mother rushing along the sidewalk or through the mall, pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a 3-year-old who, in danger of having her shoulder dislocated, is half-walking half-trotting in an effort to keep up.

The holidays are here. The media is ratcheting up the excitement and the stores are inviting us in with glorious decorations, repetitive holiday music and shelves overburdened with things to buy. We are beginning to feel a little overwhelmed and as though we couldn’t keep up either. We wonder how one dictionary could ever have defined “holiday” as, “That period of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

In the rush of it all, what can we do to keep the children, particularly the preschoolers, in mind over the next few weeks?

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” you might object. “We constantly keep them in mind as we rush about buying them toys so they will have plenty of gifts and won’t be disappointed if they don’t get what the TV is urging them to ask for. We make sure they have special clothes to wear and we hurry to get their pictures taken with Santa. What more do you want us to do?”

We Grandmothers got together and after admitting that we, too, get caught up in holiday excitement, decided to suggest the following ideas to young parents. It might help.

Take a minute to try to see things from young children’s perspective, since we all insist that these holidays are for the children. Doing so might result in fewer frantic moments and less exhaustion for everyone. Perhaps your children really aren’t so keen on having a picture taken with Santa. This you may observe if you stand watching preschooler after preschooler scream when lifted onto the bearded man’s lap.

Perhaps being pulled along through the malls trying to avoid the oncoming legs is not much fun either. It’s even possible that a mound of toys that one is required to open in a few hours’ time is quite overwhelming.

So decide whether a picture with Santa or a trip to the mall is worth the trip, the wait and the anxiety it often causes our young children. Take a second look at that shopping list and consider shortening the part that’s devoted to gifts for your kids and think about how, at this busy time, your child can actually be helpful taking on some of the holiday tasks with an enthusiasm you lost several Decembers ago.

Consider setting up a place at home where things can be made by your preschoolers and wrapped as gifts. Kids love to help make cookies or decorate butcher paper with handprints or potato prints to use as wrapping paper. Any mess can be cleaned up faster than you can go to a mall, find a parking space, lift your preschooler out of his car seat and keep track of him as you run from store to store.

More important, the times you are quietly spending with your child and the inner pleasure she feels as she makes the gift, gives it and is showered with appreciation far outweighs the time it takes to “clean up.”

When your holiday involves travel to visit a friend or relative, prepare your children for what will happen. We take so many things for granted and forget it is all new to them. They may erroneously think, as one grandmother’s grandchild did, that they won’t be returning home. Young children fill in missing information with their own private assumptions often not voiced because they are afraid of what they may hear. “Where will I sleep? Will there be a bathroom there? What’s a kennel and what will happen to Muffy? Will someone feed him? Will we ever see him again?”

Or maybe you are going to be the hosts, and household members will be shifted to other rooms to make room for grandparents or friends. If this is a surprise to your preschooler, be prepared for embarrassing tears of objection. A discussion ahead of time about the change, about how hard it can be to give up a room for a few days, with a concrete description of exactly where everyone will sleep, often helps alleviate any upset. Being a part of the alternative plan and feeling the welcoming attitude of a mother and father beforehand enriches the experience in ways that live well beyond these holidays.

Image courtesy of Imagery Majestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cabin fever: 2-way feelings about winter

Cabin fever: How do you manage your kids’ needs when school is canceled or the weather isn’t conducive to being outside?

A lot of parents use snow days to have some cozy time with fewer rules – stay in pajamas, watch DVDs, lose track of meal times.

Other families – especially those with younger children – find their kids need the structure even when it’s not provided by the outside world. In that case, parents need to use the clock to pattern the day similarly to weekday routines.

Neither solution is right or wrong; do what’s right for your child.

To help keep your long winter days moving, think about your home as a classroom with stations; rotate through activities the way teachers do. And don’t forget how satisfying it can be to cook or bake. It warms up your house, paces a large chunk of time and everyone gets a treat afterwards.

When working with small children, the prep work for a baking project is just as important as the actual mixing-bowl moment. And it becomes an activity, in itself.