Give Presence, Not Presents

Christmas is fast approaching, and many parents may be concerned about their family’s financial situation and the money problems they may be experiencing this holiday season. This column is adapted from an article by Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman, parenting experts.

The giving of gifts during the holiday season is an honored tradition. However, if you are wondering what gifts to give if you have to tighten your money belt, then maybe the answer lies in the gifts that are given. Give children what they really want from their parents: presence, not presents.  All children spell love T-I-M-E. What we parents can give to our children is our attention, our availability, our closeness, and our time.

Are you being fully present with your children? Can you let go of your worries about money? Can you suspend your agenda to focus on theirs? Can you learn to be there for and with your children?

Consider the following suggestions as a way to give the most important present this holiday season, your presence.

1. Be there regardless of what you are doing. The holiday season requires an added measure of balancing kids’ schedules, visiting family, and cooking, as well as keeping u the regular requirements of work, laundry, cleaning, everyday cooking, etc. When feeling pulled in several directions, many parents turn to multitasking. Avoid the urge to multitask and strive to stay focused on the moment at hand. When you sit with your children, whether it’s to play a game or read a book, give them your undivided attention.

2. Make a “be” choice. How you choose to “be” affects whatever you choose to “do.” When you are with your children, choose to be interested in what they are interested in. Choose to be happy that you have the time to focus on their needs and wants. Choose to be excited about the time you have with them. Even when misbehavior occurs in your children, choose to be glad you have the opportunity to help them learn a new behavior or a new way to communicate a desire or express a feeling.

3. Focus on listening rather than telling. Children spend a great portion of their day following directions: pick up your clothes, make your bed, sit down, be quiet, go play, chew with your mouth closed, stop picking on your brother, hang up your coat, brush your teeth. To kids, the list of commands seems unending. Remember, children have valuable things to say too. Many times parents get so focused on telling that they forget to listen. Value your child’s opinions. Allow them opportunities to vent. Embrace their points of view. Invite suggestions. Listen to their voices.

4. Connect physically. Touch is a powerful way to communicate “I love you.” Get close and touch your children’s heart with a warm embrace or gentle squeeze of the shoulder. Snuggle under a blanket and read together. Go for a walk and hold hands. Wrestle on the living room floor. Dispense hugs, smiles, winks, and an occasional high five.

5. Connect emotionally. Feelings are always more important than things. Create an environment where it is safe to be emotional. Encourage the expression of feelings. Allow your feelings to extend to your children as you share traditions, reflect on holidays past, and gather as a family. Demonstrate empathy, compassion, and understanding.

6. Unplug from the electronic world. The television, computer, video games, and other electronic gadgets have the potential to create a disconnect from personal interaction. Stand up, walk away from the TV, and go shoot baskets, skip rope, go for a walk, read a book, play a board game or card game, or ride bikes with your child. While riding in the care, tell your child a story about the day you were born, relate a favorite holiday memory, sing, or play 20 questions.

7. Play by the kids’ rules. Play with your children at their level. Make mud pies, jump in rain puddles, roll down a hill, spray whipped cream on the kitchen table and join in the creation of artistic designs, and then eat them! Cover the driveway in sidewalk chalk. Let your children take the lead and change the rules of a game if they want. Know that play, no matter how childish or silly it may appear, is an investment in connecting with your children. Play regularly with your kids, and remember that the reason for play  is to play, not to win.

Make a commitment this holiday season to give the best gift you can give by being present in your child’s life. Be active and interactive on a daily basis with your  children. Be the parent God called you to be. Give your presence, not presents!

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