All Our Kids Want for Christmas is a Little Respect

Christmas: that time of the year when parents are scrambling to buy presents for their kids.

Now, I have nothing against Christmas presents. I’m an awesome gift-giver, as evidenced by the hand-me-down pajamas, used books, and secondhand video game NoNo and K.K. are getting this holiday season.

But let me venture to suggest that what our kids really want for Christmas is not necessarily more stuff.

What they want is just a little respect.

Respect Their Worth

Some families have traditions like Santa or Elf on the Shelf to determine whether the kids have been naughty or nice. But many of us tiger parents don’t even need a white man in a silly hat to do the job; we parents gladly take on that role ourselves.

We constantly evaluate our kids’ behavior. We attach conditions to gift-giving. We use gifts as bribes to encourage good behavior: “I’ll get you that puppy if you win that piano competition.” Or hold gifts hostage to prevent bad behavior: “Clean up your toys, or don’t expect to get new ones for Christmas!”

But a gift is not truly a gift if you have to earn it.

Whether gift-giving is a part of your holiday traditions or not, our homes should never be a place where our kid’s worth is evaluated based on behavior. Our children need our unconditional love and acceptance, apart from their conduct.  They should never have to question whether they are worthy of our attention, our affection, or even our gifts.

For more insightful thoughts about gifts, check out this article on the Happiness is Here blog.

Respect Their Interests

Rarely do our kids value the same things that we parents do.

For example, here is K.K.’s Christmas wish list:

Once I got over all the spelling mistakes, I was rather amused at his choices and thought his list was pretty adorable.

But I could have also easily reacted with disapproval and criticism:

Doesn’t he know that “nicknack” is synonymous with junk? Does he really need yet another Hot Wheels Car to add to his collection of 178? And what’s this about “jewlery?”

We judge our kids’ interests and tastes based on our own adult standards. We label them as “childish,” “girly,” or “a waste of money.”

But a gift isn’t a true gift if it’s more about making the parent happy than the child.

We really need to check ourselves when we are tempted to dismiss our kids’ desires or overrule their preferences. Placing value judgments and unfair labels on their hobbies and interests only leads to them feeling shame and a lack of acceptance.

Let’s instead learn to respect and celebrate our children and their unique interests, whether or not they conform to gender stereotypes, cultural expectations, or parental standards.

Respect Their Boundaries

We often have adult expectations regarding the holidays.

We fill the calendar with parties and performances, cookie decorating and tree trimming, Advent readings and charity events.

But sometimes our kids just can’t handle it all. They need a nap, a quiet night at home, or some time to connect with us in all the busyness.

We force them to hug 叔叔阿姨, thank 阿公阿妈, smile for the camera while sitting on Santa’s lap.

But sometimes our kids simply are not ready to show genuine affection and gratefulness to relatives, much less to a bearded stranger at the mall.

NoNo (10mos) and Santa

Christmas isn’t truly a season of peace and joy when the need for peace is ignored and expressions of joy are forced.

So let’s understand our kids’ temperaments, respect their boundaries, attune to their needs, and protect their autonomy. Not every child will resent the festivities or refuse the affection, but every child should be able to choose for themselves.

***

Christmas is just a few days away.

The presents are waiting to be placed under the tree at the last possible minute so that our kitten doesn’t tear them apart. I hope they will bring NoNo and K.K. lots of joy.

But even if the boys aren’t impressed with their new pair of Uniqlo long johns, there’s one gift I’m giving that I’m pretty sure they’ll appreciate:

The gift of respect.


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