Making Magical Memories with Your Minis
The days are getting shorter, and tiny T-shirts are giving way to tiny sweaters, little boots and adorable, often-removed, beanies. With the cooler weather comes many festive traditions and gatherings, times we optimistically hope will be full of peace, joy and memory making. Of course, reality is never far behind when you dwell with the tiniest of humans, and soon you remember the pitfalls of the “happiest season of all,” regardless of what holidays you celebrate. With that in mind, let’s make a plan of action to ensure that when you’re in the thick of the memory making, it’s mostly joyful and not fodder for January therapy sessions.
Pick Your Routine Battles
Children thrive on routine and consistency, something difficult to maintain during holidays. Perhaps you’re taking off work to observe a religious occasion or traveling out of town to visit family. Plan which parts of your child’s routine you can preserve and which you can possibly temporarily suspend. For instance, making the drive to the family gathering a day’s drive away during the night allows children to have a “bedtime” of sorts in the car and prevents the often-complicated circus of daytime driving long distances with young children.
On the other hand, once you arrive at the gathering, suspend your usual insistence of a certain screen time allowance or quantity of small treats, allowing for a little holiday magic and prevailing peace. I find that providing relatives strategic chances to spoil my children often recruits their support when I must draw a line later on, such as insisting on a nap or suggesting we turn off the TV and go outside with cousins.
Change can often disorient or overwhelm young children, leading to either clingy or hyperactive behavior and meltdowns. If your child is timid about new foods, plan to bring a selection of snacks to supplement Grandma’s potluck lunch. Ask in advance if your hosts have the means for you to make a simple sandwich for your child or can provide room in the refrigerator for a small container of an alternative meal.
Likewise, if your little one is nervous around new people or animals, prepare the adults with whom they will be interacting. “We’re looking forward to the party! Lydia is going to have fun seeing everyone again. She does take a little time to warm up in new settings, so she might stay close to us for a bit.” When you arrive, make it clear that you are unfazed by any developmentally appropriate caution or nervousness and be your child’s voice.
Make it Hands On
Small children often explore new stimuli with their whole person, taking materials in with all their senses and asking so many questions. Meet this need with child-safe versions of commonplace holiday decor. A felt Christmas tree, low on the wall and covered with removable felt baubles invites tiny hands, perhaps sparing the baubles on your actual Christmas tree (however high up you might be placing them).
A little playset of candles, latkes, dreidels and a hanukkiah can be a wonderful way to practice Hebrew blessings and create fond memories of Hanukkah magic, paving the way for fewer issues when you light your actual candles each night. You can even incorporate modeling gentleness with the baubles (“Try not to drop it. Gentle.”) and caution with false flames on the candle (“Ouch. That’s hot. Don’t touch”).
Manage Adult Expectations
Much of the holiday magic we remember as children comes from effort from adults, a service we provide happily though sometimes with a blind eye to developmental needs in children. Tradition may be that every grandchild bakes pies together, but if cajoling the 2-year-old to maintain clean hands, wait turns to mix and resist eating raw dough raises everyone’s blood pressure, perhaps it’s best to scale it back for now.
Encourage family to move the crystal unicorn collection to a higher shelf, remind Grandpa that Logan is not ready to ride on the ATV to the apple orchard like the older children and politely thank your relatives for any gifts your child receives, reminding them that in time Serena will be offering her own genuine gratitude because you are modeling it for her.
If you want magic, set aside the list of “things we have to do” and look to your little one. Hold them up to the holiday lights or candles and watch their faces glow with wonder. Hand your preschooler a little piece of cookie dough and watch them roll it and create a little, sticky masterpiece. Laugh when your 3-year-old boycotts the matching family pajamas in favor of their usual Lightning McQueen set and smile in pictures even as the baby wriggles away and the 1-year-old picks their nose.
The real magic, it turns out, is the time we spend together in the season of life we are in, accepting all the chicanery that comes with it. We only have so many holidays with these small, sticky people before they grow up. Let the littleness of your children save you from the overwhelming bigness of this time of year, and you may find a new kind of peace, joy and, perhaps, humorous memories.