cutting down the treeIt’s a commercial time of year, of course. It’s a challenge to help our children enjoy the holidays mindfully amidst all the products, gift-giving, and hopes for things. The rip-open-all-gifts urgency is seemingly innate to most young children. Amazing how our kids can stay on task when it involves opening awesome toys and gifts!

It’s really hard to celebrate the real bounty in life, that of friendship and generosity, in a world that really does focus so much attention marketing what we “need.” Holidays can get swept sideways if we don’t do a good job describing what they mean, why we celebrate, why we go way out of our way to stay home from work to ritualize things, cook huge dinners, and fly all over the country to be with those we love. I’m clearly not doing a perfect job. Exhibit A:



pesky elvesLast week our 5 year-old told me he was going to sit down with our elves and “put in an order” for Santa. It was kind of cute at first blush but then I realized how entirely messed up this can get. I explained that you don’t order, you ask and dream and sometimes Santa delivers upon those wishes. We haven’t tied Santa to punitive politics, i.e. I am not about “naughty” versus “nice” per se. We expect good citizenship at home all year, not just between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That being said I really do enjoy playing with the magic of Christmas. Our boys believe in the elves and their nightly journey to see Santa and as we understand it, they still believe in Santa. But it’s clear I haven’t spent enough time talking out loud about why we celebrate at all.

I clearly don’t have the most mindful space in the world (since my son is ordering up from Santa as if it’s but we’re working on it. Here’s a few ideas for a better experience with your children this year when gift giving (and receiving):

Gift Giving With Children:

  • Better To Give: It happened at some point in my twenties or thirties, I think. That obvious truth that indeed it is far more fun to give than receive. Although I don’t think the typical child will ever feel this way, we shouldn’t forget to share our feeling about this. Remind your children how giddy you are you get to give.
  • Homemade gifts are AH-mazing. Think about the way you feel when you receive a homemade card compared to one from the drug store. Don’t ever underestimate the value of putting together little gifts with your children for those they love. This doesn’t have to be Martha Stewart quality stuff — this can be homemade cards made out of their leftover school photos or tiny wreaths you make from the leaves in your backyard. Don’t forget that gifts of little value tend to hold the most.
  • Give toys that introduce new activities. One of the awesome opportunities giving provides is a nudge in the right direction. If your child never wanted to play an instrument but all of the sudden realizes how cool the banjo is — don’t hesitate to try something new.

In My Humble Opinion, Toys To Avoid:

  • Weapons: I seriously don’t think children need weapons as toys. The reasons are obvious, yes?  I was perusing a list of best toys this week only to run across a crayon ammo belt—really a belt for toddlers that held crayons like bullets. You’re kidding, right? But I’d steer clear of toys that mimic war/fighting, or those that glamorize guns in any way.
  • Screens For Infants: You likely saw my post on the iPad bouncy seat and iPotty but there is simply no evidence that screens enhance or support our infant’s and young children’s development. Toys with screens for infants and video games that are not rated for children (need to be rated “E”) should be tossed out of the shopping cart.
  • Fast Toys (without helmets): I sound a little like a pediatrician here but I say you should steer clear of toys (or clothes) that are designed for speed with embedded wheels but aren’t typically used with helmets. I’m thinking of the shoes with wheels and similar toys that allow kids to fly around without thinking they need to protect their brain.

Great Toys For Children This Season

  • Simple toys that allow for creative play. No question that those simple, basic toys may allow our children to explore, create, enjoy, and learn like no others. I’m thinking of legos, blocks, art supplies, and construction sets of any kind (jewelry making, bridge building, engineering games), and board games.
  • Balls and sports gear for family are awesome toys that get your family outside, moving, and playing together. In the last year we’ve had a hoot with stomp rockets, the new soft footballs with spiral grips, and a set of indoor “street” balls.
  • Wrap up an experience! There’s no question your children would always choose a 1/2 day with you over a toy. In fact, even teenagers say they want more time with their parents, particularly at meal time. Don’t forget the value of allowing your child to design a “dream” day in town for the two of you. Wrap up a day at the beach with just you and your child (no siblings!) or an adventure for March. These are gifts that are true treasures.

Remember this SNL skit about “Toy Salesman?