The holidays are notoriously stressful despite the fact that most people I know look forward to them. I know I do. I used to really love shopping at various stores and websites — trying to find the perfect gift for my loved ones. I loved throwing an annual Christmas party — planning out appetizers that always included my famous baked brie with cranberry sauce, fussing over centerpieces and picking out just the right Christmas movie to play in the background.
All of that changed last year. I gave birth to my son the Saturday after Thanksgiving, so the entire holiday season was spent in that wonderful, stressful, exhausting and sometimes boring acclimation period that many new moms are familiar with. All of my Christmas shopping was done via internet and very last minute. Gifts were sent directly to family, without wrapping but with a note that said “Merry Christmas! Love, us.”
This year, my lovely little newborn is now a busy 1-year-old. It’s an adorable age. He is full of joy, temper and mischief all wrapped up into a chubby little package. He’s perfect and I can’t wait to share the holiday season with him. The only problem is that I’m a bit at a loss for how to make this holiday meaningful for him. Thanks to my job, I’m familiar with the basics of early child development. I know his brain is actively soaking in the environments and experiences around him. I know a scan of his brain would light up like Christmas lights when I sing to him, read books to him, play games, or chase him around the couch. I also know he would be just as enthralled by a brightly papered box as he would be the gift inside.
Therefore, I’ve decided that the best gift I could give my son this holiday season is … me. Studies show that all children thrive under the care and attention of a nurturing adult. A child’s healthy attachment to his or her caregiver will have a positive effect on behavior and development. In fact, children with a secure bond end up doing better in school, making better choices and being happier and healthier overall. So much so that the positive impacts are seen well into adulthood. As the adult in your child’s life, you define their world and determine if the experiences that are shaping their brain are positive or negative. Without constant interaction with you and others, your child’s brain won’t develop the networks needed to build complex skills later on. In other words, if they don’t learn how to play peek-a-boo now, they’ll have a harder time learning language and reasoning later on. That’s just how the brain develops.
So, this holiday season, give your child the gift of you. Practice self-care so you can be as present and stress-free as possible. Cuddle on the couch. Make a blanket fort together. Bake cookies and let them feel the dough between their fingers. Count the stockings on the mantle. These are the moments that make a lasting impression and are more valuable than any material present you could find. There is no impact on your wallet and an incredible impact on both you and your baby.
Taryn Yates is grant manager/planner for the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund, the state affiliate for Prevent Child Abuse America.