Just about every family has holiday traditions they hold near and dear, many of which began when they were children.
“Bringing some positive family time into the mix and giving kids something they can look forward to and something they can participate in is something that is important to their development and their feelings of belonging in the family,” said Dr. Lauren Knickerbocker, clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone’s department of child and adolescent psychiatry.
But this can also be the most stressful time of year for parents, so Metro asked Knickerbocker for tips on how they can get a handle on the holidays, from encouraging gratitude and teaching the act of giving to tackling those oft-dreaded questions regarding Santa’s logistics.
Metro: Is there a right time to spill the beans about Santa’s existence?
Dr. Lauren Knickerbocker: That’s a hard one because I think most kids will naturally start to hit that age. The only time I see it be problematic for much older kids who maybe still believe and get teased by their friends, which we don’t usually see until they reach the end of elementary school.
Is it wrong to use “Santa is watching” or the Elf on a Shelf to get kids to behave?
I think if people can have fun with it, fine, but thinking about needing all these extra things because you don’t have the authority to have your kids listen to you otherwise is probably what the root of the problem would be. You might want to start thinking about other ways to help them understand when they have to follow rules, not just with all these gimmicks.
What are ways parents can teach the act of giving and receiving gifts graciously?
This is something you want to think about not just at the holidays but all the time. It is something you can model quite a bit — saying “thank you” to the people that help you in your daily life at the grocery store or anywhere. Having kids see you with those manners is going to help model that for them as well. Saying, “That person really thought about you, it would be really nice if you could say ‘Thank you,’ even if it’s not your favorite thing in the world, we want someone to feel good for trying to make us feel good.”
We bring our kids into it by buying things for other kids and having them come along with us and not having that be separate from them so they see us buying something they would enjoy, too, so we can say, “We want everybody to have a good Christmas, so we’re giving this to kids who might not have a good Christmas otherwise.” Have them be part of the donation process, too.
What’s the best way to approach questions about different faiths or beliefs?
New York’s a great place for this because kids have ample opportunity to know about it, so just give them information that some people celebrate Christmas, some people celebrate Hanukkah, some people celebrate other things. And if they ask you what it looks like and you don’t know, look it up together. Let the curiosity of the kids guide how you explain those things to them.