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Let your holiday traditions be a natural extension of the personalities, beliefs, and favorite pastimes of your family members, but try not to expect your child to appreciate traditions wholeheartedly. Your preschooler may be more interested in the creative process than in the final project and in maintaining his daily routine than in starting an all-new, holiday-based one. That's okay — just fold a holiday activity or two into the mix (you can always add more as he gets older). Try one of these:
- Start a Thanksgiving roundtable. Before eating, ask each person at the table to share the things for which they're thankful. Nothing is too small to be thankful for, so if he mentions the Halloween candy he received or being able to baste the Thanksgiving turkey for the first time, applaud him. If he doesn't want to share, avoid pressuring him. Instead, give him a chance to pass and you'll be surprised at who chimes in later as the meal unfolds.
- Decorate gingerbread houses. You and your child can make this a special event, or you could invite friends and family to an elaborate gingerbread-decorating party. Most cookbooks have recipes for construction materials you can prepare ahead of time and affix to a plate. Then set out bowls of colorful candy and let your child create his edible piece of real estate. (You can avoid baking altogether by using cardboard for foundation, walls, and roof.)
- Have a Hanukkah gelt hunt. Rope the entire family into a gelt (holiday money) hunting game. Usually parents use real coins as treasures for children to find. If your child has a sweet tooth and you don't mind his indulging, substitute gold-foil chocolate coins for real ones.
- Play "elf delivery." On Christmas Eve, surprise your child by leaving a special gift on the doorstep, such as new pajamas for him to wear on Christmas Day. As your child grows older, you may want to have someone else play elf — older kids may catch on that Mom or Dad is usually gone when the "delivery" shows up.
- Employ "Santa's Helper." When it's time to distribute the Christmas presents, get out the Santa hat and let your child play the part of Santa's helper. As Santa's helper, your child will enjoy having an important role at such a key moment — gift-opening time — during the celebrations.
- Sing "Happy Birthday" to the New Year. Explain to your child that New Year's Eve is a special night, and have him help you bake a birthday cake for the New Year. Decorate the cake with candles and throw a mini-party complete with your child's favorite foods. Sing and blow out the candles in honor of the New Year. This puts the holiday in a perspective that your child can readily understand and identify with, since he celebrates birthdays, too.