Build Stronger Family Connections with the Gift of Presence
By Catherine Hornke
Presence vs. Presents
I’m sure when you ask children what is at the top of their list for Santa they could show you what was circled in Toys R Us The Great Big Toys R Us Book of Awesome, without a moment of hesitation… and 10 or 20 years later, they will likely not remember that new toy but will remember family connections. Over a lifetime, nothing compares to the gift of presence and building family connections. Ask family members separated from one another during the holiday season; overwhelmingly all they want is to be home and be with family.
Some useful tips for making the holiday season less about the material, commercialized element and more about family connections, consider these 3 ideas outlined below.
1. Time & Attention: Child development experts tell us what children most want and need has very little to do with what is listed on their letter to Santa. As parents, we may be efficient at setting rules, expectations and letting children know when they are out of line. Listening, paying attention and giving children the space to share their feelings and stories may be more of a challenge. Our children need for us to look at them with intention and care. They need our special focus and attention on them, not on their lack of academic performance or attention on forgotten chores (Martineau, 2012). How could you mix up your routine a bit to allow for greater flexibility to listen and purely focus your attention on your children?
2. Affection: Let your home be filled with love! Attachment theory posits skin-to-skin contact lets children know that they’re safe, protected, bonded; building trust between child and parent. A child with a strong bond to their caregivers often develops better self-confidence and may be better able to relate to other people as an adolescent and adult (Martineau, 2012).
3. Consistent & Dependable Family Traditions: Traditions are one of my favorite ways to encourage the gift of presence. Looking back at your most cherished holiday childhood memories, I challenge you to look beyond that special toy to what else made the celebration special. I’m sure stories flood your mind of how and what you were doing in your family to celebrate. Looking back, I do remember joy about opening presents and yet, I cannot recall what I had been given. For me, the most anticipated and enjoyable family tradition was repainting and setting up life sized, plywood cutouts of snowmen, soldiers, and various other holiday characters and items to decorate our front lawn. My siblings and I loved sitting in the yard watching our dad climb into the queen palm in the front yard to secure the wire for the flying reindeer! My younger sister, brother and I overwhelming remember this and other traditions, not the gifts. If you are unsure of how to start up traditions in your family, I encourage you to ask all family members how they would prefer to mark the holiday every year. Families often ask me how to make traditions when they never had any growing up and I often find myself referencing the creation of a Family Mission Statement. Every year at holidays, this mission statement may be added and modified; offering a moment to reflect on the past year and hopes and wishes for the New Year, as a family determined to build strong family connections.