The 3 “T”s: Timing, Traditions and Take it Slow
Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, or in some other way, this is a busy and exciting time of year, and especially so for your toddler. From visiting grandparents to school parties, gifts and extra time with friends—there’s a lot of added stimulation in your child’s life. It’s easy to forget in the hustle and bustle what matters most to your toddler—security, routine and connection to loved ones. That’s it. Whether this means trimming a tree together or baking cookies, lighting candles or attending religious services, keep in mind that for your toddler, he or she simply craves connection to and time with close family. With this in mind, you can take the focus and pressure off having the most elaborate decorations, serving the tastiest meal or finding the perfect gifts for everyone on your list.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY: This holiday season, take a toddler POV and focus on the 3 Toddler “T”s: Timing, Traditions and Take it Slow.
The Waiting Game. Toddlers have no sense of time. They really only know—right here, right now. So, building excitement about lighting the Chanukah menorah and receiving gifts weeks or even days in advance is confusing to our little ones. It’s also frustrating—waiting is hard and toddlers cannot do it for very long. My advice is to limit the buildup, especially when it comes to gifts. In this case, out of sight really is out of mind. Keep those wrapped presents away from prying hands. I also advocate for a less is more approach. Far fewer gifts will save you money and, ultimately, make your child happier. My experience is that toddlers really don’t want it ALL. They may say they do, but this is because, again, they live in the here and now. Your daughter has a thought, “I like ponies, and I want one.” She asks for one, but tomorrow she wants something else. And the day after that, she has a new request. She doesn’t necessarily have to have all of these things. She is simply asking for what she wants in the moment based on what she can imagine right then. Believe it or not, your child will be more satisfied with one or two gifts that you open together. Staying in your pajamas and sitting and playing with a new toy will bring joy to your child as well.
One way to minimize the over anticipation and single minded focus on receiving gifts throughout Chanukah and Christmas morning is to allow your child to participate in the creation and giving of gifts. Children like to feel included in adult activities. They also love to help, so give your toddler a tube of wrapping paper and some tape and let her go at it. If you are someone who bakes goodies for friends and relatives, invite your child to join you in the kitchen. I highly recommend you let go of perfection (with toddlers, it is messy baking). Include your child in the fun and joy of creating and giving. This helps take the emphasis off of the “gimmies,” at least until everything is wrapped or the cookies are out of the oven.
Create New Traditions. Cooking together is a perfect example of how you can begin to involve your child in family traditions. For many of us, there isn’t anything that indicates the holiday season more than delicious smells emanating from the kitchen. Memories are created and close connections are made based on traditions. They bring comfort to your child each time he or she experiences the annual ritual as they grow up. This year, introduce your toddler to long-held family traditions that are meaningful to you and also begin new traditions. One year when my kids were younger, we had an impromptu snowball fight on a snowy New Year’s Eve with friends. It was so much fun that we insisted on doing it again the following year. And the one after that! Our annual snowball celebration has become a family tradition and it’s one we all look forward to years later. Other favorites include baking food to donate to a local food pantry or homeless shelter, using a special menorah each year (my children each have their own), reading a holiday classic every night before bedtime, and building holiday wreathes for neighbors.
Take it Slow. It’s easy to get caught up in back-to-back visits and holiday activities, but if you’re able to take it slow and keep to basic routines (naps, meals, bed and bath time) your child will be much merrier. A rushed child can quickly become a cranky child. If you need to skip a family get together to avoid missing an afternoon nap, do so with polite apologies. It is the rare toddler who can miss a nap, and the relative who pleads with you to come anyway is not going to be handling the meltdown. You are. Advocate for what your child needs even if it means skipping an event or leaving early.
Finally, slow down yourself. Being with family and friends throughout the holidays can be stressful on you, too, and when you are stressed, your toddler is stressed. Your child takes his or her cue from you, so keep your stress in check and if you need a break—take one. Whether it be a calming walk around the block, a trip alone to the grocery store, or ten minutes alone in your bedroom, restoring your energy will allow you to be the parent you want to be, the one who can positively connect with your little one– which is exactly what this season is all about. Happy Holidays!
For my best tips on traveling with toddlers over the holidays, read the Traveling With Toddlers Series. Also, learn more about how you can manage visiting relatives, holiday events and long, travel days in Surviving the Holidays Part 1.