Christmas in certainly a time when parents think deeply about their children. We put a lot of effort, time, money, and heart into picking presents that will elicit a joyous and exuberant response.
However, I think that we overlook the 3 most important gifts we can give our children: peaceful time together, self control, and emotional intelligence. These gifts are the hardest to give because you can’t just throw money at them and they come so deep from our hearts that we often run short on them ourselves.
Our culture’s preoccupation with productivity can make us view our children as objects which keep us from checking things off our list or as vampires sucking our “me time” away. This is not an attack on self care. You are important, too, but often after working 8 hours people want to come home and be left alone to recuperate. It is easy to overlook the fact that while you spent 8 hours busting your butt, your child spent 8 hours wishing you were there. Find a balance between striving to be around and present with your child after a hard day’s work and getting your time to recuperate.
Second, self control is a learned skill. Young child can exercise it with reason, but without their parents modeling it, talking about it, and failing, kids will not learn it. Make games. For instance, offer your child 1 cookie now or 2 in an hour. Show them it’s worth. Buy a collectible Hot Wheel. They are worthless if taken out of the packaging. Put it on the wall and show your child how to leave it alone. Periodically, check it’s worth and figure profit earned by self control!
Last emotional intelligence. This is the ability to recognize and healthily tame our emotions. Don’t try to control your child’s emotions (“You’re not hurt.” “Stop crying or I will give you something to cry about.” “Big boys don’t cry.”) Emotions are inevitable, and we must teach our kids to recognize them and let them learn to respond to them. I let my kids cry, and audibly recognize their feelings (“You’re crying because you really want that toy, and I won’t buy it for you. You are sad. You are mad. Now you are kicking your feet and screaming because you are very upset”). It’s not easy and pretty embarrassing in public, but I think that in the long run, it will prove much more valuable. My kids will have words to describe their feelings. They will have learned to ride out their big emotions like a surfer on a 50 foot wave.
We think so much about frivolous presents. I want to give my kids the most difficult presents to find: peaceful time together, self control, and emotional intelligence.