Seeing the Holidays from a Child’s Perspective: An Empathetic Holiday Planning Guide for Parents

JSM singing with students 001In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, there’s much to accomplish in a short amount of time. Adult’s goals may include gift shopping for family and friends, volunteering at school parties, baking cookies, decorating the house and preparing special foods. But children’s goals for the season are very different. They are looking for joy, magic and miracles and are eagerly awaiting sharing those experiences and feelings with you. They do not care about time schedules. They are far too busy engaging in awe and wonder. So in the midst of your busyness this season, take a moment to consider your child’s perspective. And be certain you are helping carve out time, space and opportunity for their goals as well. Here are some of your child’s priorities and ways you can bring them to life this season.


When considering what gifts to buy for your kids this year, consider how the toy or item leaves room for their imagination. Play, after all, is their central vocation and toys are the tools of their trade. Play assists in learning and can move a child from one level of development to the next. Take a look at your shopping list. Ask yourself, “Do these toys leave room for imagination?” Be sure and include toys that offer children the chance to expand their minds through their own creative exploration. Here are some ideas for playthings that stir creativity (Here’s a pdf version if you’d like to print and use)!

Costumes – These could include old jewelry, purses, shoes, jackets, uniforms, halloween costumes, accessories like walkie talkies, badges, name pins, hats from any profession, medical scrubs, glasses, wigs, mustaches, beards, capes, tiaras, colorful toy weapons (* for safety reasons, never buy a weapon that resembles a real one.)

Stuffed Animals – These could be any and all shapes and sizes and types Play school, wedding, “work,” train station, airport

Household (Safe) Tools – These could include pots, pans, whisks, wooden spoons, empty food/cereal, boxes, calculators, type writers, measuring tape.

Forms – These couuld include out of date checks, restaurant order pads, or driving logs.

Musical Instruments – These could include keyboards, shakers, tambourines, castanettes, kazoos, drums, guitars, or any music maker.

Art Supplies – This could include colored paper, paints, markers, crayons, pipe cleaners, buttons, scissors, glue sticks, stickers, glitter, old magazines to cut up, grains (corn, beans, pasta), yarn, or leaves for tracing or rubbing.

Building Blocks – This could include Classic Legos, Connectagons, Magnatiles, Bristle blocks, marble runs, or wooden blocks.

“Worlds” – This could include train tracks, cars, houses, trees, roads, barns, animals, fences, stores, amusement parks, zoos, cities, ocean, characters, action figures, and habitats for animals.

Tactiles – These could include sand, play dough, clay, rice, pasta, and bubbles, (i.e. place tactiles in a bin and hide objects in sand).

Discovery toys – These could include dinosaur digs, Snap Circuits, nature exploration supplies – nets, binoculars, microscopes, magnifying glass, bug examination containers, and science/chemistry kits.

Puzzles – These could include age-appropriate size, number of pieces (challenging but not too challenging) and for older (8 years and up) – Rubix’s Cube.

Picture and Nonfiction books – Always include at least one book on your gift list! Books can set the scene and establish characters or settings for play.

In addition to these imaginative toys, you might consider – how can you give something that offers your child a part of you? This does not refer to anything store bought. Could you write a letter about what you learn from your child or all the good you see in them? Could you draw him? Could you frame your favorite picture of her? Could you write your wishes for her future? Think about how you might treat your child to an heirloom – a gift of your love – that they might keep well beyond their childhood years.


Along with parties, shopping and preparations, declare a quiet time to be kept sacred. You may not be home at the same time consistently each day but consider if you deemed each Friday afternoon or Saturday morning as a time to be peaceful and quiet as a family? In order for kids and adults alike to truly enjoy the holiday celebrations, they also require some calm. We’ve assigned the time between 3:30-4:30 in the afternoon as quiet time in our house. That means no media blaring, noHoliday Quiet Hour 2014 illust by Jennifer Miller
running children, no loud voices. Reading is welcome. Snacks with high protein are encouraged (to combat the onslaught of sugar) and a hot cup of tea for Mom and Dad. I also tuck my to do list away so that I can’t look at it. And play happens too as long as it is not noisy and physically taxing. The essence is creating a calm, quiet space where individuals respect each other’s sense of peace during the designated time. Though peace may not be an explicit goal of your child’s, your patience and engagement in their sense of wonder is. This quiet helps facilitate that for all family members.

Talk about creating this sacred time at a family dinner or time when all are together. Be sure to agree on expectations ahead of time. What activities are acceptable for the quiet time? What activities are not acceptable? Also, an hour may just be too long for a quiet time in your household but wouldn’t a family agreement to stay quiet for 15 minutes a day be a relief to you — and perhaps to all? Decide on reasonable amount of time. Set a kitchen timer to remove the temptation to argue. Do it each day or week you are home at the same time so that the routine takes hold and family members begin to expect it. Maybe they will even rely on it. And maybe it will give each member the fuel to truly be present to the possibility of joy and wonder this season.

Also, plan to step up care for your own anxiety. Create a routine out of stepping outside in the crisp air and taking ten deep breaths before you start your day. It only need take a few minutes. Let the steam from your coffee remind you to breathe. This small gift to yourself can become an even bigger gift to your family when you have more patience throughout the long, busy days.


Though you may feel beyond or finished with belief – with the magic of the season, your children are not. Magic in a child’s world represents the unknown filled with hope, not fear. It seems we could all use some of that feeling, understanding and interpretation of the world around us. So learn from your children. Watch them and encourage their love of all things magical and find the hope within your heart.

“The secret of making a soulful adult may not be to bring up a child correctly; it may be to allow the child her own nature, pleasures and interpretations.” wrote Thomas Moore in The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life.


It’s so hard to retain our focus on what’s really important when we are busy with our to-do list. But challenge yourself. Your children are watching and figuring out what the season is all about through your actions. What if they watched you get lost in the love – of neighbors, of friends, of family? That’s my goal for the season and my challenge for you: to hold love as my focal point. How can you get lost in the love of your family and your surroundings this season?

Happy December 1st.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: