I really appreciate it when adults make an effort to engage my boys in conversation. It sharpens their social & communication skills and shows them that what they have to say is important. But some people don’t give children much credit or take enough care over what they say when talking with children. There are two particular questions that adults commonly ask children over the festive season that make me cringe. I especially cringe when they are asked of my boys because they give messages about Christmas that conflict with those I am trying to teach them. The questions appear innocent and I know they are intended as friendly & fun but I would love to see them depopularised.
PLEASE DON’T ASK MY KIDS THESE QUESTIONS AT CHRISTMAS TIME
What do you want for Christmas?
This is the go-to question people ask when they want to open up conversation with a child at Christmas Time. It very effectively draws out even the most socially reticent child. I asked many children this question myself before having my own. It was becoming a parent that prompted me to give more thought to the materialism and consumption I was upholding by asking it. Other related questions, such as “how many presents are under the tree for you?” or, worse, “what is Santa bringing you for Christmas?” all make me wince.
If what do you want for Christmas? is the question they are asked most often at Christmas time, our children will reasonably assume that getting presents is the most important part of Christmas. I appreciate that getting presents is exciting but I wonder if the way children sometimes hyper-focus on what they are going to get for Christmas is an outcome of the way the adults around them over-emphasise it.
For our family, showing kindness and being with loved ones are at the heart of the season. It’s about generosity of spirit rather than generosity of material things. I think a lot of people actually feel similarly to us but it doesn’t show in the way they talk to children about Christmas.
Have you been good?
The implication of this question is, of course, that, if you’re not good, Santa won’t bring you any presents this year. Many adults (even those who aren’t the child’s parent) go further and use the threat of missing out on a visit from Santa to manipulate children’s behaviour when it’s not meeting their expectations.
Apart from, again, directing the child’s attention towards receiving presents rather than the more valuable elements of Christmas, the suggestion in this question is that the child may not “deserve” presents. No child (or adult) is perfect and there’s no need to undermine their sense of worthiness by questioning their deserving of a visit from Santa. Some children won’t think twice when asked this question, taking it as a bit of fun. But the more sensitive or literally-minded will worriedly begin trying to calculate whether they’ve been “good” enough to scrape onto The List. Even if they no longer believe in Santa, for these children, this question may have them doubting their deserving. And, when you’re speaking to a child, you can never truly know which type of child you are speaking to.
I’m no Christmas Grinch but, as with all things parenting, I am intentional. Although I know that people are well-meaning, their carelessness when speaking with my children bothers me, especially at a time of year which lends itself to emphasising our values and the meaningful things in life. It really does take a village to raise a child and sometimes I wish our village would lead our children more mindfully and towards the things that really matter.
ALTERNATIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK KIDS AT CHRISTMAS TIME
It’s time to step off my soap box and offer some suggestions. Below are a few alternative questions to initiate conversation with the children in your life at Christmas Time. Which ones you use will depend on the children and how well you know them.
* How are you celebrating Christmas this year? (Nice ‘n’ simple to get the ball rolling.)
* Who are you spending Christmas with?
* What are you looking forward to most about Christmas? (If they say “presents!”, which I know my kids probably will,they’re not bad kids with no sense of the meaning of Christmas. But perhaps say, “Exciting! What else are you looking forward to?”)
* Who are you going to do something nice for this Christmas?
* What Christmas traditions do you have in your family? (Perhaps begin by sharing one of your own.)
* What are you doing to help get ready for Christmas?
* What’s your favourite Christmas song/story?
* Do you know any Christmas jokes? (Have a good one of your own up your sleeve).
My list isn’t exhaustive so, if you have other suggestions, please share them in the comments below.
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