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Help for the Holidays

Most parents look forward to sharing this time of the year with their children. But less is often more when it comes to holiday activities. By Deborah Gray

Pre-schoolers do best when they are actively engaged in holiday activities. Being whisked from one place to the next reduces the value and enjoyment to be gleaned from each event. So make sure to plan fewer activities, but include time for children to respond to what they’ve done. Parents can furnish props, for example, that allow children to play the characters in The Nutcracker. Children who have time to dress and play as Clara or the Grinch will better remember the experience over the years.

Choose Priorities

Decide what your focus for the holiday season will be. If parents make a list of priorities for themselves and their children, the activities that are important to both will be included. One mother surveyed her list and found that tradition and family were the values she wished to instill, while religion was not as important. As a result, she stopped trying to hustle her kids to midnight Mass, where they invariably fell asleep, and relaxed into making cookies, decorating, singing carols, and visiting friends. Families may also want to think about rotating activities on a yearly basis, rather than trying to do everything every year. For example, baking could be emphasized one year, plays and concerts the next. Children may enjoy choosing each year’s “theme,” and that will help them to feel engaged with all the activities.

Routine Helps

Children like to know what will happen the next day. Predictability is calming, so try to keep to the daily schedule as much as possible. Children (and parents) can easily become overstimulated during the holidays. Take a look at your holiday calendar and reserve tranquil evenings at home intermingled with your evenings out. Also, consider making bedtime a half-hour earlier for the six-week holiday period—for parents too! It improves everyone’s mood.

The holidays leave rich imprints on children’s imaginations and memories. Ultimately, parents want children to have memories of being loved, joyous, and carefree. Through sensitivity to the needs of their children, and careful planning of a child-friendly season, parents can achieve these goals.

Holidays May Prompt Questions

This is a season filled with special events and celebrations, but the focus on family can lead to new questions.

When Molly, age five, received Christmas presents and pictures from her birth-grandmother, she exclaimed, “I didn’t know that my birthmother had a mommy!” Molly knew the rudiments of her adoption story, but was just beginning to grasp the concept of an extended family.

Abra, reflecting on the time difference between her home and China, asked whether her birthmother would be lighting her Hanukkah candles when it was morning for them. “I don’t think that she will be lighting any candles, my love,” her mother said. “She doesn’t celebrate Hanukkah.” “But our whole family celebrates Hanukkah!” Abra blurted. She was astounded to hear that her birthmother was not Jewish.

Abra’s and Molly’s parents took the opportunity to explore the themes of extended families, and birth families versus forever families, helping each of their children to understand the differences. The holidays are a time for your child to celebrate the unique conflation of heritage and traits that make him yours.

Deborah Gray is the author of Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today’s Parents.

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