Presence vs. Presents: What Kids Really Need for the Holidays - MetroFamily Magazine
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Presence vs. Presents: What Kids Really Need for the Holidays

by Heidi Smith Luedtke

Reading Time: 2 minutes 

My son’s holiday wish-list is longer than Santa’s arm. And it’s (partially) my fault. “Kids are not always able to distinguish between what they want and what they need,” says parent educator Nancy Samelin, M.S., author of Loving Without Spoiling. “Parents have to do it for them.”

Wants and needs become synonymous when parents grant every wish. Kids develop a sense of entitlement, so they beg or throw tantrums when wants aren’t immediately fulfilled.

Refocusing on what kids need can help parents bring indulgence under control. When parents meet these needs consistently and generously, kids have what their hearts’ desire.

  • Structure. Knowing what to expect diminishes stress. Decide which rules are non-negotiable—those related to fundamental values, health and safety top Samalin’s list. On matters of personal preference and style, offer options. When kids know what isn’t up for discussion, they stop negotiating.
  • Support. Trying something new can be scary. Kids need a secure base of exploration to facilitate risk-taking. Be available to talk, and coach your child to solve his own problems by asking “how could you handle that?” Kids need to know parents believe they can handle themselves and that we’re there to assist.
  • Undivided attention. Spending special time with your child only requires you. Give your child 100 percent of yourself, even if it’s just for ten minutes. “You may be great at multitasking at the office, but your child won’t feel you’re really involved with him if you’re loading the dishwasher or checking e-mail while playing a game together,” says Samalin. No parent dies wishing they’d spent more time on Facebook.
  • Apprenticeship. Playing with toys isn’t the only way to have fun. Let kids help with cooking or laundry. Yes, it takes a little longer and it’s messier, but carrots peeled by a preschooler taste sweeter than the ones you prepped yourself. Host a mother-daughter book club or change the car’s oil together. Those are the memories they’ll truly treasure.
  • Silliness. Let go of the need to act like a grown-up for just a few minutes, and watch your kids’ eyes light up. Wear a goofy hat. Bury yourself in a pile of leaves. Sneak a surprise into kids’ lunchboxes or eat a picnic dinner in the living room. Kids are under a lot of pressure to do it all and to perform flawlessly. Share the joy of a good laugh.
  • Patience. Kids who struggle with transitions or who want attention often drag their feet and delay progress when parents are in a rush. “Dawdling comes as naturally to young kids as breathing,” says Samalin. As often as possible, slow down. Live in the moment. Walk next to your son, not ahead of him. Small moments are significant.
  • Real conversation. Parents spend a great deal of time telling kids what to do: “Clean your room” or “Tell dad it’s time for dinner.” But kids need to be heard. Make a point to have a real conversation with your child each day. Ask questions, listen deeply, share experiences.

Saying “no” to some of kids’ wants means you are choosing to lavish them with the structure, support and affection they need. And those are the gifts kids grow on.

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