I remember handing out presents to my relatives on Christmas Day when I was a child. Before I could read the names on the gift tags, my aunts would reach under the tree, hand me a wrapped box. “Take this gift to Uncle Jerry,” they’d say. I’d step over legs sprawled out in my grandmother’s living room and deliver Uncle Jerry’s present to him. Of course, he’d say “Thank you,” then I’d make my way back to the Christmas tree knowing that one aunt or the other would have another gift for me to deliver to a different relative. As more cousins were born (I was the oldest cousin), they too joined in on delivering gifts to recipients every Christmas Day.
Looking Back as a Parent – An Opportunity for Confidence Building
I didn’t know it then, but now I know that my aunts (there are three of them) were promoting healthy and affirming beliefs inside of me. They trusted me with the task of carrying presents to my family members. By asking me to help, they demonstrated that they had faith in me – they indirectly communicated to me that I could handle the job. Imagine how this belief inside myself was reinforced each December. This small task repeated over and over again strengthened my bonds with my family and strengthened my self-confidence.
Offering Opportunities for Children to Contribute
The holidays are about giving presents to children. Most would agree. But we can give children even more than monetary presents. Last week, I shared on facebook another gift giving ritual that I helped my kids complete. From the time my kids were in elementary school, I provided the opportunity for my children to make gifts for their grandparents and aunt. I wanted my kids to experience gift giving as well as gift receiving.
I remember one year when my son was three or four years old, he and I baked Christmas cookies together. The next day was trash day at our house and I decided that we could share some of the cookies with our trash collectors. I packed the cookies in a bag, attached a big note and sat the bag on top of our trash can by the street. My son and I listened for the roar of the truck to near and when it did, we parked ourselves at the front window to watch. We wondered if our bag would be mistaken for trash too, sitting up on top of the trash and all. So we waited to see what would happen. The trash collector picked up the bag, studied at the note, smiled and look up at my son and me. We smiled and waved. The man smiled and waved back.
Now I’ll bring this full circle back to my grandmother’s house. As an adult, I still go there every other Christmas – of course, my kids are with me too. (My grandmother passed away just this past year at the age of 97!) Before we leave our own house, I ask my kids to carry presents out to the car for the trip and once we arrive (an hour and a half later,) I hand food for Christmas dinner or presents from the car to my children to carry into my grandmother’s house. My kids are teenagers now, but when they were younger, they were also given the task of handing out presents to relatives at my grandmother’s house.
What Internal Gifts Can We Give Children?
Imagine you’re a child. Your parent or another trusted adult asks you to help and directly or indirectly expresses that he or she has faith in you to complete the task. What messages are you receiving from the world about your capability? What messages are you possibly thinking about yourself – about your capability?
Often we adult express love to children by pampering them and making their lives as fun and easy as possible. Consider that love can also be expressed by showing faith in children – faith that they can handle simple responsibilities – small messages that even as children, they have something to offer the world (in addition to acting and looking adorable.) To me, these gifts are the ones that kids will remember fondly. I can only remember a few of the actual presents I opened from relatives during my childhood. I definitely remember the feelings I experienced at my grandmother’s house every Christmas for the first twenty-four years of my life. My sense of family, inclusion and and contribution are the consistent thread in my memories of childhood holidays.
What will you do to express faith in your child’s capabilities this holiday season?