What do the holidays mean to children?

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Gifts, lights, trees, food, more gifts, more food. These are what the holidays are all about! Right? No, of course not. But they may be to a child, on the surface. So what does all this hubbub around December actually teach kids?

Walking around in the streets and shops every winter means seeing people and especially parents searching for gifts to give to their loved ones. We’re making lists and assigning something tangible to express our feelings for them. It’s an outward gesture of our relationship with them, how we value them, and how we want them to think about us and know what we think about them. Needless to say, it’s loaded. With all these physical expressions, it’s easy to forget to express our feelings in words and actions.

Children are born into this hectic time of list-making, gift-buying, and wrapping. But what does it really mean to them? Unless we intentionally relate those gifts to our feelings, they’re not going to understand it. They just think that when they see lots of reds and blues and lights and hear wintry songs on the radio, they’re about to hit the jackpot with toys. The real message is lost.

"What I found with more affluent families is that they were spending so much time and energy trying to provide the goods, and the good life for their children, they often neglected the effort to bring out the goodness in children." Robert Coles, "The Moral Intelligence of Children" (Random House, 1997)

Every moment is a teachable moment and every season has a message. The holiday season, though it may mean shopping and spending, should still include taking the time to communicate what this time means to us and why we express our love with gifts. Let’s go over our lists and ask our children about a specific person and what they think they may need. Let’s focus our giving on the emotional value of a thing, rather than how much money is spent or how many gifts are given. Here are some activities to do with children around gift-giving, best for children aged over 2 years.

  • Take them shopping for gifts - especially for people close to them. They will love seeing their Dad open a gift they helped pick out.

  • Buy gifts for children less fortunate and maybe even take them to the place where you will donate them and be sure to explain to your child who they’re for.

  • Have them create something (draw or paint or glue) as their gift to you or to their parent. Make sure you wrap it and put it where you place the other gifts from your home.

  • Suggest baking someone’s favorite treat instead of spending money on an electronic or toy. Explain how special this gift will be because your child will help make it themselves and no bakery in the whole world will have these very special treats.

  • When they get older, around 7 years old, have them do errands in the house around November so they can save money to buy the family gifts. My son went to the 99 cent store and got everyone gifts for the $10 he earned straightening up the living room.

Be sure to check out this article from Care.com on how to teach your child about the diversity of this holiday season so they can get worldly about celebrations outside of their own traditions!

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