“Have you been a good boy this year? Santa and his elves are watching!” asked the shop assistant as she smiled at my four-year-old son.
Are you serious? I thought to myself.
“All kids are good, aren’t they?” I replied with a smile.
Was I being overly sensitive?
She didn’t really mean any harm, did she?
After all, there are Christmas carols written about naughty and nice children. About not crying and not pouting.
It’s all part of the Christmas contract; kids behave well and then they’re rewarded in direct proportion to their level of cooperation throughout the year.
“Good” kid = lots of gifts. “Bad” kid = not so many.
It’s a fair deal, isn’t it? Of course it’s not.
Because there is no such thing as ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’ kids, just as there is no such thing as good or bad behaviour.
These festive habits are nothing more than coercive techniques used to control children by inducing fear and anxiety. No matter how they’re sugar-coated they discriminate against kids while leveraging the magic of Christmas.
So here are a handful of ways we can advocate for our children’s needs, while turning the tides of childism and fostering respect towards all family members, no matter their age.
1. There is no such thing as naughty and nice
Using words like naughty and nice to describe children blinds us from seeing our children for who it is they truly are and marries us to the notion that we can (and should) control our kids. These familiar phrases refer to superficial behaviour, which is what most conventional discipline techniques focus on. Tactics like timeouts and punishments are misguided because they fail to identify the underlying problem and most often, punish children for being children. They take all responsibility for change and personal growth away from the parent and place it squarely on children’s shoulders.
They predispose us to missing the entire point of parenting; to be in a relationship with our kids. When our kids are melting down, that is when we earn our parenting stripes, by being the calm in their storm and offering our universal acceptance. By guiding, not controlling, shaming or silencing.
“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows. Not the flower.” Alexander Den Heijer
The parent-child relationship is the environment and one of the best ways to nourish it is to focus on connection – read through this post for six simple tips to deepen connection on a daily basis. It can be hard to do, especially when we’re under the spotlight with extended family who may view the world differently than we do. Don’t worry about convincing others, but also don’t compromise on your conscious parenting choices just to satisfy someone else’s agenda. Your child is the only critic that matters.
2. Let’s knock the elf off his shelf
While the Elf on the Shelf may be pure marketing genius and may seem harmless enough, it represents manipulation – plain and simple.
This odd little toy is part of a growing number of modern scare tactics that prey on children’s natural desire to trust in the magic of Christmas. From phone numbers parents can call to report bad behaviour, to Santa Webcams and online surveys to assess your child’s naughty or nice ranking, I find it saddening to witness the lengths our culture believes we have the right to stoop to in order to manipulate children’s behaviour.
Introducing a silent bully into our homes, into our children’s safe space, violates their trust.
So, let’s knock elf of his shelf this year and replace him with a positive alternative. I recently discovered The Kindness Elves, whose mission is to emphasize kindness, sharing, and gratitude. From baking cakes to give to neighbours to filling a box with groceries to give to the local food bank, the Kindness Elves give children (and parents) practical ideas to be kind in the lead up to Christmas. You can check them out here.
3. No, your child doesn’s have to hug aunt Lucy!
For most of us, Christmas means spending time with extended family and friends, which can be wonderful, but the pressure is inevitably put on children to offer and receive affection. Suggesting or forcing kids to “give Aunty a kiss” or “Grandpa a hug” violates their right to bodily autonomy.
Nobody, except our children, has the right to ask, demand or give affection without their express permission.
Other people do not have the right to decide about our kid’s bodies (no exceptions!). So, if your child doesn’t feel comfortable, hug Aunt Lucy on their behalf and don’t allow a big deal to be made of it. Protect bodily autonomy and don’t allow others to label your child as “shy” or threaten your child by saying they will “get their hug later”. Let’s be honest and recognise that often these comments are nothing more than adults trying to protect their own egos.
If children feel connected to an adult in a safe environment they will most likely open their arms for an enthusiastic hug. Explaining this to family and friends beforehand will help adjust their expectations, protect their feelings and avoid potential disappointment. Discussing it with your child beforehand is also helpful – perhaps they’d be more comfortable with a high five than a hug and you can let your family know that.
Don’t be afraid to be your child’s advocate – their ability to protect their bodily autonomy is a life skill that is infinitely more important than a distant relative missing out on a hug and your family should fully support that.
For Gift-Giving Inspiration, click here to read 15 Toys to Ignite Your Child’s Creativity and Support a Plastic-Free Holiday.
4. Let’s make Santa unconditional (or not at all)
At this time of year, I often find myself in a tug of war between wanting to give my son the magic of Santa and being completely honest.
I fully respect and appreciate all the reasons many parents choose not to do Santa. If you are considering whether or not Santa is for you, check out this wonderful post, by my friend Rachel about why her family chooses not to do Santa.
For us, for the moment, we choose to do Santa. And the one question I always ask myself is ‘when my son finds out who Santa really is, will I be proud of the choices I made?’
So, like our love, Santa is unconditional. He brings gifts no matter what. They don’t need to be earned, there are no strings attached and they can’t be taken away.
Our Santa is also minimalist – he’s a bonus, rather than the main event because we want to foster giving as well as receiving, so most gifts are from family. I don’t know how long we’ll do Santa for but when our son eventually asks if Santa is real, we won’t prolong the Christmas charade. (He’s already explained to me the tooth fairy can’t possibly be real, so it may not be too far away!)
5. Let’s decline the invitation to busyness
When I’m feeling overwhelmed and rushing from one scheduled activity to the next, that is when I lose my patience with my son. That is when a perfectly reasonable and simple request from a five-year-old gets under my skin. And this is one of the reasons I strive to simplify our lives – to give myself the mental space I need to be the parent I want to be.
“How I respond as a mother usually has more to do with how I’m FEELING than what my child is DOING.” Bridgett Miller
The lead up to the holidays is often called the silly season for and for good reason! When we say “yes” to too many invitations and obligations busyness takes over. Give yourself permission to choose your “yes’s” with intention and don’t feel guilty when you say “no”. If an activity feels like it may be too much for your child, remember that there is always next year. We have such a short window in which we can revel in the magic of Christmas through a child’s eyes so hold the space for small moments to create lifelong memories.
Check out my post Simplifying Childhood May Protect Against Mental Health Issues for more of the benefits on simplifying as well as Simplicity Leads to Happiness in Children (and here’s how to do it) for eight tips you can implement today.
6. Let’s remember it is not up to children to meet the emotional needs of adults
Emotions can run high at Christmas (and I’m talking about the adults here). From unrealistic expectations to historical family feuds, it’s the time of year that can bring out the best and worst in our loved ones. Yet often, we expect more of children than we do of adults.
We expect seamless manners, endless smiles and unconditional gratitude.
Let’s view Christmas, and all that comes with it through the eyes of our children. It can be overwhelming enough for us, and we have 30, 40 or 60 years of Christmas experiences under our belts.
At this time, don’t be afraid to remind others that is it NOT up to a child to meet the emotional needs of an adult. It is the other way around. Let’s be our children’s guides and help them navigate the complexities of the holidays. Let’s be our children’s’ advocates and extend grace rather than shame when they forget to say their tenth thank you for the day and instead, say it for them.
Let’s be realistic and expect meltdowns so that we can proactively build in quiet moments that fuel their emotional and physical tanks. Let’s stop excluding kids based on age and instead foster inclusion. Let’s allow our kids to bring out the childlike wonder in all of us, as they remind us that life is always better when we don’t take ourselves so seriously.
And finally, let’s let our kids be little, and for one magical day of the year, prioritise children’s needs over the expectations of adults.