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Whether we observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Solstice, the holidays have become more stressful for many parents and less happy for many children. By the time we add shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, and holiday events to our already busy schedules, we have less time than ever to spend with our children. When children don’t get enough attention from the people they love, their “love cup” gets empty and they feel disconnected and unhappy.
If adults try to make children happy by buying them more presents to compensate for spending less time with them, we teach children that “things” are supposed to make them happy. When gifts become a substitute for love instead of a symbol of love, children begin to measure how much they are loved by how many gifts they receive. The more empty their “love cup,” the more “things” children ask for to try to fill the emptiness they feel.
The saying, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need,” is especially true for children. No matter how many gifts we buy for children or how much money we spend, if their love cup is empty, there will never be enough gifts to make them happy. When children with an empty love cup have unwrapped all their gifts, they are still looking for something more. The “something more” that children are looking for is something money can’t buy.
The gift every child really wants is the gift of feeling connected, loved, and valued. Those feelings can’t be found in any present or in any amount of presents. Children want to be with us and to do what we do. Feeling connected, loved, and valued comes from spending time with the people they love and from doing things with and for the people they love.
One of the best gifts we can give to children is the experience of the joy of giving. We can encourage children to make an “I want to give” list as well as an “I want to get” list. Children delight in giving their own gifts. When children are allowed and invited to fully participate in the holiday making, wrapping, baking, and decorating, they become more focused on what they want to give than on what they want to get. Children who feel connected, loved, and valued don’t need lots of gifts to fill their love cup.
We can break the “presents instead of presence” cycle by doing the holidays with our children instead of for them. Whether our children are still very young and we have a fresh beginning to create meaningful holiday traditions and rituals, or we have older children who have been accustomed to receiving lots of presents, we can put the “happy” back into the holidays by filling our children’s love cup with connection instead of consumerism.