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The Surprising Present Young Kids Want During Holidays

Children like to feel needed and useful (just like the rest of us).

I will never forget the holiday when I took my four-year-old son on the Polar Express train ride, to visit Santa at his local hangout, to the tree lighting ceremony, and to the Christmas story time at the library.

His dad and I chose the perfect workbench present for his construction-loving phase and stuffed his stocking with play dough, Spiderman toothbrushes, and glow sticks.

We let him open each chocolate door of the Advent calendar, listen to Christmas music, read Christmas stories, and make a ton of ornaments out of pinecones, egg cartons, and glitter.

However, when I asked him what his favorite part of the holiday was, he answered, “Helping Grandma set the table for Christmas dinner.”

Just like the rest of us, young children love to feel useful. They want to feel needed and they treasure the chance to be of service or make a meaningful contribution. They also love bonding with adults while helping out in the "grownup world."

When I look back at the season, I can see that my son lit up the most not on Santa’s lap, but when he helped Daddy shovel snow. His eyes twinkled the brightest not when he was tearing open a new Lego set, but when he was carefully cutting paper or ripping tape to help me wrap presents. Though he liked the fishing game Grandpa set up for him on Christmas, he seemed to enjoy drying the dinner dishes more. Some of his other favorite moments seemed to be when we let him put stamps on holiday cards, bake cookies, water the Christmas tree, or hang lights on the bushes.

Remember when you proudly got to be the door-holder or the paper-passer in kindergarten? Kids light up and rise to the occasion when they have a special role. (Behavior challenges also tend to fade away when they're doing something important). Marty Rossman from the University of Mississippi also found that children who had done chores since the age of 3 or 4 were more likely to be well-adjusted, have better relationships with friends and family, and be more successful in their careers.

I learned that instead of running past a young child to get them the hottest toy or bake them the coolest-looking sugar cookie, I needed to slow down and let them help me out.

Copyright Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD 2016

Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD is a psychotherapist in Chicago's western suburbs. She is the author of Joy Fixes for Weary Parents (New World Library), available now for pre-order. Follow her on Facebook or sign up for free articles on research-based ways to build more joy into family life.

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