No matter where you work or where you live or how many kids you have, we all feel the pressures and high expectations of the holiday season. What’s meant to be a season of coming together and taking time to appreciate family and loved ones often becomes a season of stress as we fret about what gifts to buy and how we will afford it all. I won’t go on and on about how many of us forget about the true purpose of the season. You’ve heard that before. I do, however, want to remind you that the most important thing you can give your child—not just for Christmas but for life in general—is YOU! Yes. Just you.
Think back to your own childhood for a moment and consider some of your favorite memories. Sure, some happy memories might be linked to that doll house or race car you got for Christmas but I’m willing to wager that at least one of those memories has nothing to do material possessions. I’m willing to bet that your most memorable experiences are connected to times you spent with your family and friends; movie nights, trips to the beach, making forts in the living room, playing hide and seek. Moments of connection and strengthening bonds are vital to our overall happiness but as it turns out they are also vital to a child’s development.
When you spend time with your child and show her that she’s important and loved you are making her feel safe and secure. Studies show that above anything else love, safety and security are the most critical components for a child’s development. Children who experience positive interactions in a safe and loving environment within the first five years of life go on to be healthier and more successful in school and life in general. However, children who are often exposed to violence and lack of positive interactions are more likely to suffer from health issues like obesity, anxiety and heart disease, have problems empathizing with others and score lower on IQ tests.
Simple interaction such as responding to your child’s babbles and questions is called “Serve and Return Interaction.” Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child explains the importance of these interactions.
“Serve and return interactions shape brain architecture. When an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain that support the development of communication and social skills. Much like a lively game of tennis, volleyball, or Ping-Pong, this back-and-forth is both fun and capacity-building. When caregivers are sensitive and responsive to a young child’s signals and needs, they provide an environment rich in serve and return experiences.”
Truly, the most valuable gift you can ever give your child is your time, love and attention. Not only will these experiences create memories that will last a lifetime, they will literally shape the architecture of your child’s brain, aid in their development and set them up for a lifetime of success.
With that in mind, I encourage you to let your focus this holiday season be on spending time with your child and creating experiences that will help him or her grow into an amazing person. That perfect swing set or hard to find gift is nothing in comparison to your love and affection! It’s so tempting to get swept away in the momentum of the holidays but at the end of the day the stress you may have put yourself through procuring the perfect presents won’t matter as much as all the hugs and kisses and laughs you can share with your sweet child.