Perfect gift for a child is not at a store — it’s yourself

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The Christmas season is soon to be upon us. With that comes gift giving for our children.

The desire to make it picture perfect exerts a force on us to look for and buy the best. Sometimes this comes with frustration, financial impact and stress. Are there deeper lessons for us as parents and caregivers and adults?

The young infant, when tested, responds with strong brain activity upon hearing the mother’s voice. The father’s voice is close behind. Then the voice of the primary caregiver when the parent is not available due to work or school. These voices in the life of the infant are superior, necessary and perfect. Contrast that to zero brain activity of a TV or radio. The infant has zero brain response. Different studies might show some but still with very weak response.

I assume, as I am not a doctor or a formal researcher, that these voices continue to be important in the life of a child. They create the relationships that build on developmental health of the little person in our lives. Parents need to continue to have a rich, full, verbal exchange with the people they are in relationship with. This can propose a problem if we aren’t talking or engaging our children due to our busy and plugged in lifestyles.

I speak from experience and I speak from witnessing. I know I am too busy. I know it takes great intention to stop and focus on giving full answers to my young children. I know that I need to use full engaged dialogue with my kids. I know they desire that and when I fall short they kindly remind me.

I also know that children cannot develop fully if they are in front of video games, TVs, iPhones or iPads no matter how educational they seem. Children need people. They need warm, loving, happy, consistent, trusting people in their lives.

I suppose the best gift we can give to our children this holiday season is to do some purposeful cleaning of clutter in our own lives. Doing this can help us to be present in the lives of the little people we serve and love. I know putting the cellphone in my purse in the trunk is a specific way I can be more present. Keeping my life in balance is also a gift I can give to my children.

I can make dates with each child and delight in their own personality and talents. This can be a hot chocolate at Starbucks and a walk around downtown. I can take the pressure off myself to buy the fanciest gadget.

The most beautiful gift that invests in the hearts of our children is helping them feel good. If we give a nod to the early research that states the importance of your voice, then why wouldn’t we make sure we continue to give that gift of ourselves to our children?

If we all took this time, no matter what our circumstances, our children would be happier, their brains would be activated and relationships would be enriched.

This gift will never be discarded in February. This gift will reap long term benefits. This gift will pay dividends. This gift will make us healthier. This gift will make you feel amazing. This gift will give you a smile. This is the gift of you. Easy. Perfect. Cheap. Hopefully, it will be under every tree this year.

Catherine Wolpert, a parent and educator, is the director of the Walla Walla Catholic Schools Early Learning Center at Assumption School.

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