What Does Your Child Want? Your Attention

The holiday season is upon us. Children are making their lists. As adults, we are making our lists too – to-do lists, that is. No matter how good our intentions are, the holidays can get very hectic, and hectic is hardest on our youngest children.

We have all read countless articles about keeping the stress out of the holidays. You know the ones we mean, “65 Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress,” or “Giving Yourself Permission Not to Participate This Christmas,” and even “Five Tips for Potty Training During the Hectic Holiday Season” (a unique favorite to be sure). We promise this isn’t going to be one of those articles.

Our advice for this holiday season is much simpler than that and may have the same outcome – give your child (or grandchild) one present that requires your involvement.

No matter how much they beg for the hottest gift of the season, young children would most love the promise of time spent with the adults in their lives. This actually holds true as our children grow older, but they are just much less likely to admit it.

Think back to your own childhood. We did. Linda’s favorite “gift” was the time she spent with her aunt and cousins baking cookies. Each child was responsible for his/her own bowl and the cooking process could fill an entire day. For Liz, a friendly domino competition or euchre game could bring three generations to the table -and not just during the holidays.

An education speaker reminded us recently that as a society we get caught up in buying things for our children. He warned, it’s not which game you buy to keep a child happy that matters, it’s the game that requires everyone to get down on the floor and play together that makes a difference.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t even have to be a game. It just needs to be focused time together. The “game” could be skating, sledding, making snowmen, baking cookies, doing a craft or sharing a talent or skill and so much more. The list could go on and on. The idea is that adults and children do something together.

After all, young children want our attention and want to know they have it – undivided. Spend any amount of time in the presence of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds and you will understand. They all have a story to share and they simply need your attention to tell it. It isn’t the story that’s important, actually – it’s your time. That’s why we get to hear so many fascinating stories in a kindergarten room. Once you give your attention to one child, every child will want it; some will have nothing to say, but would never sacrifice the chance to hold your attention for some purpose – any purpose at all. Having time with an adult in the family fills that need beautifully.

Playing a game together is a great chance to relax with your youngest family members this holiday season. There is no magic list of best family games. Choose any game that you, as the adult, will enjoy. Choose the activity that matters to you or your family. That is the magic. That is the recipe for a stress-free holiday memory.

For some it will be cooking, for others a family game, for others still it’s the annual turkey bowl. Whatever it is, you’ll see that sparkle in a young child’s eyes – the excitement usually reserved for Christmas Eve that comes alive at the thought of having the family together for game night.

I’m sure there is much more to say on this topic, but it’s my move!

Linda Krulock graduated from West Liberty State College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education and early childhood. She teaches senior kindergarten at Wheeling Country Day School. Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini is head of school at Wheeling Country Day. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard University Graduate School of Education.