A tremendous amount of space has been devoted to the ways that the holidays can impose additional stress on families, with negative implications for children. But at the same time, the holiday season also represents a time of wonder for young children, and offer an excellent opportunity to nurture their social, emotional and cognitive development. The holidays can mean loving family environments, playtime with relatives and friends, delicious foods, music, and a break for normal routines. All of these opportunities support optimal early childhood brain development.
Warm Family Environments
The holiday season holds the promise of time together with family and friends. For many families, this means visiting distant cousins. These visits bring anticipation and excitement. Ideally, these visits mean that young children receive the attentive adoration of their extended kinship network.
The holidays also offer much needed opportunities to play with young children. Play allows young children to hone their attention spans and to learn to focus on specific tasks. Children strengthen their motors skills, visual tracking, and hand-eye coordination while playing. Cooperative play with other children helps in the development of creative thinking, problem solving, decision-making, and communication skills like listening, cooperating, and negotiating.
Special Meals and Nutrition
Many holiday gatherings center on meals, and delicious meals and treats are opportunities for families to enjoy each other’s company. Proper nutrition is vital to the developing child. For young children, holiday meals bring a number of key developmental opportunities – learning about anticipation of a festive meal, sampling new and unfamiliar foods, and becoming socialized into the manners and traditions of a family.
Rest and Relaxation
Ideally, the holidays bring opportunities to relax and catch up on much needed sleep, for children and parents! Additionally, this is a great time of year for families with young children to play music. Relaxing music has been linked to the cognitive development of young children. Similarly, getting enough rest is vital to the developing brain. Young children require more sleep than any other age group. Disrupted schedules can make regular sleep cycles difficult and parents should be firm about their children’s need to get sufficient sleep over the holidays.