The past few years, I’ve thought a lot about how very young children might feel around the holiday season. Grownups are rushing around. There are lots of “secrets” and surprises. Routines are upended to accommodate social gatherings. There are different foods and lots of strange faces and places.
If you have small children or if you’ll be encountering them throughout this season, I encourage you to try and see the world from their perspective. A fussy baby may have missed a nap because of traveling. A toddler meltdown might be happening because someone had one too many sugary desserts from a well-intentioned adult wanting to “treat” them. A family member or friend’s young child may not remember you and therefore considers you a stranger.
Young children thrive in routine and this time of year doesn’t lend itself to routine. Please remember to approach young children with patience. Please ask caregivers if there is anything you can do to help them if you see them struggling with an upset child or simply give them a smile and a few words of encouragement. Please do not force your child to hug people, even family members-it’s never too soon to learn consent!-and if you’re a family member looking for a hug, please respect a young child’s right to make that choice for themselves.
And caregivers? Give yourself a break! Say no to one more social obligation. Do your best to stick to the routines you know are best for your child. Do not feel as though you have to make this holiday “perfect” for your young child. Your child wants one thing: love and attention from you.
It’s about birthdays, but the oh-so-wise Mister Rogers had this to say: “But you know, birthday presents and birthday parties and things like that are really little expressions of love and it’s feeling loved that makes someone feel good. That’s the real present!”