Here’s an alphabet full of ideas for simple holiday treasures that won’t cost much money, but just might last a lifetime:
1. Appreciation poster. Using words or pictures or objects, make a poster that shows how you appreciate your child: his contributions to the family, his enthusiasms, his questions, his own special ways of thinking and being.
2. Books. My favourite childhood gift was the well-chosen book I could curl up with. Whether fact or fiction, biography or mystery, travel or adventure, think about how your child might enjoy having her world expanded, and find a book to do that.
3. Compassion. The holidays are a wonderful time to share with others who might not have so much. Make time with your child for compassionate actions, and help him experience the spirit of the season.
4. Dance. Take a few minutes every day through the holidays for a happy dance. You might feel silly and self-conscious to begin with, but your daily happy dance will soon feel as great for you as it does for your child.
5. Enthusiasm. Think about what fills you with enthusiasm, whether it’s cooking, watching movies, or writing a book. Share that with your child. Talk with her about your enthusiasms and hers.
6. Forgiveness. There’s no parent or child who doesn’t mess up sometimes. This holiday season, clear out any misdeeds or disappointments that have been building up, both yours and your child’s. Ask for and grant forgiveness as needed.
7. Gratitude. Help your child put the emphasis on all the good things he already has, rather than all the things he wants. Find and express an attitude of gratitude inside yourself, and encourage that in your child.
9. Imagination. Include your child in designing and creating low-cost gifts for family members and friends. She’ll feel much happier with the gifts she gives, and learn something about true value.
10. Joy. Look for the joy in your life and in the world around you. Express that out loud. Help your child feel the warmth that fills a person up when she smiles from the heart.
11. Kindness. At a rough point in my family’s life, I asked my young daughter to perform a daily mitzvah, a random act of kindness with no hope of personal gain. It was transformative, and shifted her attitude from entitlement to appreciation.
12. Laughter. Just as good for you as a daily dose of Vitamin C, try to ensure a daily dose of laughter. At the end of the day, ask your child if he’s laughed enough yet, and work together to make sure you’ve both met your quota.
13. Music. Music can enrich a life in so many ways. Think about a musical instrument, some music lessons, sheet music, or CDs, depending on your child’s age and interest. And be sure to include music in your holiday activities, too.
14. Nature. Consider giving your child the gift of nature, perhaps in the form of a weekly outdoor experience you enjoy together. Discuss possibilities like a walk in a nearby woods, a hike on a trail, or building a birdhouse together.
15. Optimism. Talk to your child about what she can look forward to and work toward over the coming year. Help her find ways to develop her strengths and believe in herself.
16. Patience. Patience is a gift in the morning when everyone’s getting ready for the day, and all day long with your child’s attempts to master things for himself, even if you could do it so much faster.
17. Quiet Times. Especially important at this busy time of year, your child and you both need quiet do-nothing times for contemplation, reflection, and recharging your batteries. Talk about how you can give each other this gift.
18. Resourcefulness. You might make resourcefulness a family challenge this year, looking for ways to be both economical and environmentally friendly. With decorations, food, and gifts, think about ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
19. Slow it down! Doing things more slowly will calm you down and help you breathe. And somewhat counter-intuitively, it will also help you realize you have all the time you need to do what needs to be done.
20. Time. Keep your schedule as flexible as you can, so you’re free to go skating with your child, take him to a movie, play Monopoly, or make popcorn and watch TV together.
21. Understanding. Work actively to listen to your child, to attune to his moods, needs, feelings, and ideas. Do what you can to understand who he is, and celebrate that without trying to change him.
22. Vitality. Don’t hold back on your vitality. Spend all your energy on your child each day. It will renew itself tomorrow, and each today will be vibrant.
23. Wonder. Celebrate your child’s sense of wonder, and cultivate your own. Take time to savour the sound that snow makes on a crisp winter day, the taste of golden raisins, the lengthening sunshine that follows the darkening gloom of the winter solstice.
24. eXcitement. Cherish your child’s excitement every day, and especially at this time of year. Try to find your own spirit of seasonal excitement too.
25. Yesterday. Take time to affirm your family’s traditions. Talk about the people no longer present, the sweet and funny things your child did when she was younger, and your own childhood holiday memories.
26. Zest. No matter how exhausted you are, try to find some zest to flavour the memories your child will take into her adulthood.
And finally, if you’re looking for a gift for a parent on your list, think about Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids. In this book that I wrote with Joanne Foster, we talk about these ideas and share lots more secrets for raising kids who grow up into happily productive adults.