Give Presence, Not Presents

by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller

Give Presence, Not Presents

The holiday season is fast approaching and many parents are concerned about the family financial situation and the money problems they may be experiencing? As if rising food prices, stock market instability, and skyrocketing health care costs weren’t enough, parents now have the added concern of finding available money to put a few presents under the Christmas tree or share a gift during the family’s Hanukkah celebrations.


The giving of gifts is an honored tradition in most homes during the holiday season. Many parents are wondering what they will give this year as they tighten the money belt and attempt to weather the financial storm through the holiday.


Perhaps the answer lies in the gifts that are given. Give children what they really want from their parents, presence not presents. All children spell love T-I-M-E. What we can give to them is our attention, our availability, our mindfulness, our closeness, our time.


Are you being fully present with your children? Can you let go of your worry about money and the giving of gifts? Can you suspend your agenda to focus on theirs? Can you learn to be there for and with your children?


Consider the following suggestions as a way to give the most important present, your presence this holiday season.


1. Be there regardless of what you are doing. The holiday season requires an added measure of balancing kid’s schedules, work responsibilities, visiting family, cooking elaborate meals as well as regular requirements of keeping up with the laundry, etc. When feeling pulled in several directions, many parents turn to multi-tasking. We’re suggesting that you avoid the urge to multi-task and strive to stay focused on the moment at hand. When you sit with your children, whether it’s to play a game or read a book, give them your undivided attention.


2. Make a “Be” choice. How you choose to “be” affects whatever you choose to do. When you are with your children choose to be interested in what they are interested in. Choose to be happy that you have the time to focus on their needs and wants. Choose to be excited about the time you have with them. Even when misbehavior occurs in your children, choose to be glad that you have the opportunity to help them learn a new behavior or a new way to communicate a desire or express a feeling.


3. Focus on listening rather than telling. Children spend a great portion of their day following directions such as, pick up your clothes, make your bed, sit down, be quiet, go play, chew with your mouth closed, stop picking on your brother, hang up your coat, brush your teeth. The list of commands seem unending. Remember, children have valuable things to say too. Many times parents get so focused on telling that they forget to listen. Value your children’s opinion. Allow opportunities to vent. Embrace their point of view. Invite suggestions. Listen to their voice.


4. Connect physically. Touch is a powerful way to communicate “I love you.” Get close and touch your children’s heart with a warm embrace or a gentle squeeze of the shoulder. Snuggle under a blanket and read together. Go for a walk and lock hands. Wrestle on the living room floor. Distribute hugs, smiles, winks and an occasional high five.


5. Connect emotionally. Feelings are always more important than things. Create an environment where it is safe to be emotional. Encourage the expression of feelings. Allow your feelings to extend to your children as you share traditions, reflect on holidays past and gather as a family. Have empathy, compassion, and understanding.


6. Unplug from the electronic world. The television, computer, video games, and ipods have the potential to create a disconnect from personal interaction. Unplug, turn it off, and walk away. While riding in the car unplug the headphones, turn off the DVD player and tell your children a story about the day they were born or about a favorite holiday memory. Shut down the computer, turn off the Xbox and play a game of chess, checkers, or monopoly together. Stand up, walk away from the TV and go shoot baskets, skip rope, or ride bikes with your child.


7. Play by the kid’s rules. Play with your children at their level. Build mud pies, jump in rain puddles, roll down a hill, spray shaving cream on the kitchen table and join in the creation of artistic designs. Cover the driveway in sidewalk chalk. Let your children take the lead and change the rules of a game if they want. Know that play, no matter how childish or silly it may appear, is an investment in connecting with your children. Play regularly and remember the reason for play is to play, not to win.


Make a commitment this holiday season to give the best gift you can give by being present in your child’s life. Be active and interactive on a daily basis with your children. Be the parent you were called to be. Give your presence.