‘Tis the Season To Be Mindful: Stick with the Classics

The lure to indulge in excess is everywhere and very seductive for young and old during the holidays. Historically the excess made sense, create a festival of light and feasting to brighten up the dark of winter and fatten up for lean times to come.

I’ll bet those children never got more than one treasure though.

How do we balance all the fun and festivities around the holidays and remain mindful? The key is in the question: Balance.

Balance the fun, the outings, the food, the presents, the excess. As the saying goes: “All things in moderation.”

The first area that comes to mind as regards your children are the gifts.

A large number of you have shared that, at some point, you figured out that your parents were trying to buy your love with material goods. Not only around the holidays, you tell me, but also around guilt, making up for something like a fight or a broken promise, or to compensate for an event, like the birth of a sibling.

Your awakening has been anywhere from five to 25 years. Yes, it is a big span. Consider it a message to sit up and pay attention to the messages you might be sending when you over gift.

If you decide to go with quality rather than quantity, stick with the classics. In my experience it is the tried and true interactive toy, usually wooden, which the child can do alone, that will maintain the most interest over the years.

I think of these types of toys as brain food. They develop hand eye coordination, concentration, problem solving, balance and fun for body, mind and soul.

Let’s take a peek at the proven winners in my 35 years in this field:


Traditional Wooden Baby Rattles, like the Clacker or Bell Heirloom rattles from For Small Hands.


Push and Pull toys, like the 1938 Snoopy Sniffer or the 1957 Silly Circus Push Chime from Back to Basics Toys.

3 year olds:

Reversible Wood Hammer Bench from Back to Basics Toys, or the Pound a Peg from Pokkadots.

4 year olds:

Hand Held Labyrinth. Tracing the labyrinth path is calming and comforting You can find these at For Small Hands.

6 years to adult:

Labyrinth. This classic pairs dexterity and concentration as you turn knobs to tilt the board, trying to get the steel ball through the maze. You can find these at Mountain Pastimes in Nevada City.

Stilts and Balance Boards are great too. I love the Balance Board. This toy has been around since 1940 and is great for balance and coordination and just plain good times for ages 6 to adult.

There, shopping all done.

Consider giving a catalog to grandparents to choose a gift for the kids. Notice the singular: A Gift.

Now, I hope you all got the memo that Santa delivers only one toy to each child and a stocking of little goodies. After all he is a busy guy and has a lot of children waiting. These treats usually appear on Christmas morning. In fact wise parents encourage their children to get up and open those stockings on their own. Why? To encourage the kind of interaction and delight a discovery made on one’s own delivers and as an extra bonus, to buy you a few moments to snooze or enjoy a cup of coffee in peace.

Some of you share that you enjoy the mad, messy dash of ripping all those gifts open, tossing each aside to get to the next. Me, I’m always thinking of the long term effects: Disrespect for the item and gluttony, “Is that all?!?” Ever see that glazed over crazed look they get in their eyes, and that frenzy of herky jerky activity? No thanks.

Interestingly some of the very same of you ask “When will my child become appreciative?” Appreciation is learned. Translation: You have to train them to become appreciative by modeling it yourself and creating limits and boundaries. Do this from how many toys your child has out at a time (and rotating those), to how many gifts are received and even to how many pieces of paper are available to scribble. It’s a direct line of cause and effect. You absolutely must also make sure that you show appreciation for generosity, in both goods and kindness, when it comes your way. And please, please teach your children to write thank you notes. Do it with them until they are old enough to do it on their own.

I love the tradition of spacing out gifts over a designated period of time:

Establish a family ritual of giving one gift per night for a set number of nights, as in the Chanukah tradition. For example observe the gift exchange from Christmas Eve until New Years Eve.

Create a ceremony: Light candles, say prayers, sing songs. Pass them out and open one at a time. As the gift is exchanged express gratitude. This gives everyone the luxury of time and space to truly enjoy each gift.

I recommend that children clear out old toys and gently used clothing to donate to those less fortunate, to learn to let go of things they’ve outgrown and to make room for the new stuff.

Adopt a needy family and supply their Christmas, from gifts to the feast. This can be a great extended family project.

Have the children make gifts for their Grandparents, teachers and a few close friends, rather than buying something.

Lastly my annual holiday parting thoughts:

A Child’s Perfect Christmas

If a child were allowed only four Christmas gifts, could there be any more valuable than these?

A feeling of belonging, of being special and loved.

A relaxed family time.

A realistic expectation of gifts, and an understanding of the importance of giving.

A holiday season that is based on more than a single overwhelming day.