Home / Helping Children Navigate the Present Frenzy
By Barbara Valentin, Special to Tribune Newspapers The holidays may cover a minuscule amount of calendar real estate, but children spend the entire year looking forward to them. What with fun-filled family traditions, time away from school and a chance to indulge in a cornucopia of seasonal delights, who can blame them? And don’t forget the presents. As if a parent could. Advertisements for the latest toy, doll, game, gadget or must-have gizmo start invading our domiciles while we’re still polishing off the Halloween candy. Before you know it, long lists addressed to the North Pole are being drafted in everything from red crayon to Times New Roman. The reality, of course, can’t possibly match the expectations. And what parent doesn’t dread the horror of witnessing their child react badly to an undesirable gift? The key for parents, say experts, is to start tempering the gift mania now. You may not be able to manage store inventories, parking lot capacities or a toy company’s determination to convince your child that the road to happiness is paved with its product, but there are tools in your arsenal to help bring out the best in your children as the holidays close in. Here are some tips from Cindy Post Senning, a director of The Emily Post Institute (emilypost.com) and author of “Emily Post’s Table Manners for Kids” (Collins, $15.99), and Harvey Karp, creator of “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” DVD ($25.95) and book (Bantam, $14.95). (It wouldn’t hurt grown-ups to heed some of this advice too.) First things first: The holidays are taxing for everybody. Take the initiative on reducing your child’s stress level. “Ensuring kids are getting plenty of fresh air and exercise as well as restricting their treats can help,” Karp advises. Set expectations: Long before they receive any presents, remind your children of the time and effort that goes into selecting the gifts they will receive. For young children, Karp suggests “using everything from stories at bedtime to re-enactments with dolls or bunny rabbits for several days before the holidays.” This perspective will better equip them to react gracefully when they open a gift. Practice if you must: Helping your child become adept at finding something good in all that they receive, Post Senning says, “empowers them to behave with respect.” Parade a variety of objects past them, perhaps starting with those clip-on earrings you received when you were 14 (the year you really wanted a cool, new bubble watch) and move on to their favorite toy. Put on a happy face: Teach children to focus on the current gift giver and offer them a smile, instead of trying to sneak a peek at a previously received present, Post Senning says. Don’t forget thank you: While this is the most obvious tip of all, it is often overlooked. Post Senning recommends getting little ones to practice saying “thank you” even when they receive gifts that are not to their liking. If the gift clearly doesn’t measure up, she suggests that parents “give children the language they need to be respectful. For instance, ‘Oh, look at that cute sweater! Let’s say thank you!'” Turn the tables: What better way to help a child understand the finer points of proper gift etiquette than to transform them into master gift-givers? Help them shop for gifts and provide the opportunity for them to experience the joy of giving. Covering these concepts to ensure a happy holiday season will add up to hours of time well-spent with your child. And therein lies the true gift of the season.