Gift-giving is not a straightforward affair. I remember one childhood December at my aunt’s farm. It was a holiday gathering of adults upholding a variety of religious and non-religious beliefs and a clutch of over-excited children who knew that December holidays, for whatever reason, meant presents.
My parents, exhausted from a long year with two young children and full-time jobs, disappeared into town for entire days at a time. They’d use their precious leave days to go gift shopping for everyone in peak festive season chaos, and everyone was a lot of people. Madness.
The first morning before they set off, I felt a sense of dread and concern. How do I tell them that I know that Santa Claus isn’t real? Do I tell them? Will they be disappointed in me for knowing too early in life? For calling out the jig? I know that my mom loves buying gifts, especially for kids, and I didn’t want to take that away from her. So, I decided for her sake that I’d play along. Doing so goes against my truth-above-all nature and scratches at my conscience.
Santa Claus gifted me a rainbow-colored slinky that year. It was cool. I played with it for years until the day it tangled beyond repair. It was a good gift, but looking back 27-odd years later, I still feel the tug of loneliness as I remember what the best gift for me would have been. I yearned for my parent’s time and attention. I remember long, lonely waits for their return. When they did finally arrive, they were too exhausted to engage. Forget the toy shop, play with me. It’s free, it’s easy, and there are no queues.
Gifts for Connection, Creativity, and Closeness
In his best-selling book “The Five Love Languages“, Gary Chapman explains how different people experience love, connection, and belonging in different ways. Gather your family and take this quiz to learn how best to gift each other in the most meaningful and impactful way for the receiver.
Once you’re clear on the different love languages present in your family, use the below as a guide for gifting your children in a way that they feel seen, understood, and deeply loved.
1. Quality time
For the kids: Rather than sending your child off to do their favorite activity alone, do it with them. Dance on the shoreline, hug trees, skip along forest paths, build puzzles, and play dress-up together and undistracted.
For the teens: “Where Should We Begin” is a story-centered board game created by psychotherapist Esther Perel. It’s designed to help us connect and reconnect in a meaningful way through the combined powers of play and sharing stories. Playing this game with your teens is a smart way to move beyond the armor of adolescence and bond without it feeling forced.
2. Words of affirmation
For the kids: Create a treasure hunt in your garden or home. Give your child a treasure map with clues and at each destination, have a single, simple sentence written about one of their positive traits, strengths or something you admire about them.
For the teens: A long, hand-written love letter highlighting and exploring specific details and traits can make a teen who thrives on words of affirmation feel seen, validated, and loved for who they are. Be mindful to focus on who they are now, not aspirations of who you think they should be.
For the teens: Bookworms with big hearts may appreciate this book. It’s a collection of mental health stories from people like Serena Williams, sharing their struggles and how they overcame them.
4. Acts of service
For the kids: “Please do it for me?” – when does your child ask this of you? Small things often go a long way with the little ones. Contrary to popular parenting narratives, just because a child can do something for themselves doesn’t mean you should never help or do it for them.
For the teens: What would your teen love you to do for them? Repair their favorite clothes? Give them a head massage? Paint their nails? Create homemade vouchers that they can cash in with you when they’re ready.
5. Physical touch
For the kids: Create a ritual of having 10-second cuddles at specific points in the day. The challenge is to stay present, relax your body, and love your child just as they are in the moment.
For the teens: Think hair brushing and styling, hand, foot, or back massages, and physical contact while watching a movie of their choice.
“You may truly love your child, but unless she feels it—unless you speak the love language that communicates to her your love—she will not feel loved.” ~Gary Chapman
Written by Roxana Bouwer
Top image by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels