Children between the ages of three and five thrive on the rituals of life, and there’s no better time than the upcoming holiday season to create satisfying family traditions. These sorts of rituals give children a framework, security, and structure.
As anyone who tells a child he must wait for even a short amount of time knows, preschoolers do not have the same sense of time as adults. Children have little sense of a minute, much less an hour. Even a child’s breathing lacks rhythm at this age. Yet it is rhythm that calms a child and gives him a sense of security. This is why preschoolers tend to behave best when their daily routines have a prescribed order.
As the holiday season approaches, preschoolers learn to anticipate the joys that come with this special time. In years to come, they’ll remember — even more vividly than the presents they receive — their family’s and community’s unique traditions. Children like to sing the same songs, bring out the same Christmas ornaments or menorah, or make the same cookies each year. Repetition makes them feel secure.
For a non-traditional family, this is the time to create your own rituals. Our Jewish-Chinese family is a small one, and we’ve come up with a holiday celebration that works for us. On Christmas Day, we meet friends and family members at a Chinese buffet, where we dine royally. Our group includes people of all ages and religions. The buffet has been such a success that it continues to thrive and grow each year.
My daughter, Kira, loves to light the Hanukkah candles. She also likes the Christmas presents she receives from friends. What she doesn’t like is Santa Claus — an aversion left over from an early department store encounter.
So we’ve developed another ritual. Every Christmas Eve, we hang a sign on Kira’s bedroom door, wishing Santa a Merry Christmas, and asking him to leave his presents right there. Although her fears have faded, the tradition remains. I can imagine continuing it into her teenage years.
As our children grow older, they’ll discard some traditions and remain rigid about others. For now, they delight in the repetition, the celebrations and ceremonies that make them part of their own special family. These memories will sustain them through adulthood.