With Christmas decorations all around the city and county weeks in advance, many of us parents get the same question day after day: “When is Santa coming? Is it tomorrow?” How do we help our children understand how much time is left until the coveted gifts arrive?
“Time” is an abstract idea. We adults have learned to be comfortable with it, but children appreciate time a different way. Little ones understand time relative to their needs – dinner time, bath time, or bed time. As they grow, children start thinking about time in terms of right before (‘I put on my shoes before I go outside’) and right after (‘I brush my teeth after breakfast.’).
Linking time to real world events helps young children make sense of it. For example, a toddler who is hungry now may not like hearing ‘we will have our dinner at 5 o’clock.’ Instead, try saying something like ‘we will have our dinner when Mammy comes home from work.’ That way, the child can feel some ownership of and connection with time. Explaining time this way sure is tiresome for parents – but it is reassuring for children, and so worth making the effort.
When we celebrate special occasions, such as birthdays, graduations, and even national holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, we put a stamp on the passing of time. Children’s first experiences of belonging come from such celebrations within their family. Start with a visual reminder, such as marking the event on the calendar. This gives the child a chance to wonder about the event and ask questions. When the event has passed, the child can still see that mark on the calendar, indicating that time has passed.
Enlist your child’s help in the days leading up to the event. Working together to prepare for the special occasion provides reassurance for the child that they are part of the upcoming celebration, and can contribute to it.
Finally, try to have fun! As parents, we tend to pile expectations on ourselves – the perfect meal, the perfect gift, the perfect photo. When we relax the demands we put on ourselves, we show that we can cope, even when life doesn’t go to plan. Remember, some of our fondest memories are often the less than perfect moments that make us human.
Top Tips for dealing with special occasions
Help the child to count down to a particular event – mark the event on the calendar. This is a visual reminder of something that is planned. It gives the child the chance to wonder about the event and ask questions about it before the event. When the event has passed, the child can see that mark on the calendar is still there indicating that time has passed.
Involve the child in getting ready for the event. Think how you can support the child to contribute – is there a task they can do (with help perhaps) that is part of the preparation for the event? Doing jobs together provides reassurance for the child that they are part of the celebration and can contribute.
Manage expectations – life does not always go to plan. As a parent think about the expectations we put on ourselves – the perfect meal, the perfect gift, the perfect photo. When we relax the demands we put on ourselves, we show that we can cope, even when everything doesn’t go to plan. Remember some of our fondest memories are often the less than perfect moments that make us human.
This article was contributed Limerick Childcare Committee, a member of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations.