I love this time of year. I always have. I love that it gets dark earlier and cools down at night. I feel comforted by a warm beverage and wearing a scarf (and a good pair of boots ;). Daily I warm the mulling spices on the stove which brings back a flood of thoughts about being young and surrounded by family.
This season is often filled with so many sensorial encounters. For a young child these experiences are multi-dimensional. First, like a snapshot, he has the potential to take in each moment in its entirety; a complete capture of the exact scene. Any given moment is subject to the cataloging of taste, scent, sound, touch, and sight. These images are then stored and become part of his understanding of the world.
Additionally, he is often only able to respond to one stimulus at a time. So if he smells the pine trees, hears the music, and tastes the sugar cookies, simultaneously, he can become over stimulated. It is important to acknowledge this. It may mean not rushing away from the carolers in order to see the next or stepping back and letting him stare at the lights without trying to explain. Young children can be mesmerized by the many experiences this time of year. It can be a beautiful time in our country with all the decorations, peaceful music and well wishes.
If you think back to your own experiences as a young child you may recall certain sounds or scents that remind you of the winter holidays. Often you cannot consciously recall these memories, but it is a part of who you are. The experiences you have as a young child become a part of your personality. Who you are today was somehow influenced by the experiences you had as a toddler. Before you had opinions about what was right or wrong, you experienced just what was. It is difficult as an adult to imagine having an experience that we don’t put through our many filters; the filter of family culture, the filter of occupational culture, the filter of city culture…it goes on and on.
This brings me back to the young child; who has only been in the world for a year or two. Which means he doesn’t have filters yet. He experiences just what is. There it is before him, around him, involving him, in all its glory, a moment of pure excitement, pure terror, or even pure happiness. I can see the excitement in my son’s eyes as he looks at a palm tree lit from the base to the tips of the leaves and feel the worry as my daughter squeezes my hand as a person in a gingerbread man costume approaches.
This influences who they are, who they are becoming. It starts to build a filter. How will they see the world when they are conscious? What filters will they create? As a parent, these are exciting and scary moments. How do I help my child create healthy filters, inclusive filters, non-judgmental filters?
I can allow time for life to make sense.
I can give the gift of time together, collaboratively working on something, or side-by-side having parallel experience. I can give the time to show my child I value who he is as an individual and that he is good company. We can read books next to each other or bake cookies together. We can clean the fridge together, or rake side-by-side. Our contributions to family life together help us both feel an inner sense of accomplishment. He is proud to be contributing to the family and I love to see my child wanting to contribute.
I can respect the moments he needs to concentrate and not be interrupted by my words of encouragement. Although it may seem that he wants me to say “good job” he really just wants to focus and challenge himself. Allowing for this time shows my respect for his deep concentration and my understanding that his work is more important than my words. I let him discover his world at his own pace; each child has his own. I can honor that pace, allow the world to unfold before him. His own discoveries will teach him the most. He will learn about himself, he will learn trust in himself, in others, and in the world. He will have an innate trust in the world. (I love this idea) By allowing my child to have time and discover himself, he will trust in himself and in the greater community.
I can give the gift of time with his siblings.
They do not need me to moderate their connections. They need me to support them equally and respect the work they do to develop a strong bond. When they are together, they learn so much from each other and about each other. Each has a unique personality and role to play within their relationships. This emerges as they are free to explore without my interruption.
I can give the gift of the present moment.
I can be here, with him, not on my email, or Facebook, or enjoying a text from a friend. I can put down my phone and be here. I am constantly reminded by his behavior that the gift of time matters more than anything else. When I am present, he is present, when I show empathy and engagement he does too.
As we get into this Holiday Season and there are so many gifts to give and receive, I ask that you consider giving the gift of time. Your child is building himself. The smell of warm cider as you share a cup, the sound of an airplane flying overhead as you make plans to travel, and the taste of peppermint in the cookies you make together can all become part of his understanding of the world. As a parent, it is such a gift to be a witness to the making of the next generation and their potential. Every moment could possibly become part of his personality, and these are the moments you can influence. I wish you all fond memories and special times for the Holiday Season and the New Year.