Dec | 2014
The best holiday gift you can give your child is likely the hardest one for you to give
The gift children and adolescents crave the most – are the hungriest for – does not come in a box or with a bow. Nor does it have a screen, believe it or not.
No matter how convinced you are that you will make your child happiest by giving them that glimmering piece of store window technology, you are sadly misguided. By the end of this article my goal is to prepare you to make your child happier than you ever thought you could, without spending a dime.
The goal of making your child happy is shared the world over by parents of every culture. Scientific studies around the globe have been conducted on what parents most wish for regarding their children.
And every holiday season there are millions if not billions – of parents whose gifts gloss over the reality that the best gift they could give is free and remains untouched and unappreciated by materialism.
So what is the best gift you can give your child? What can you give them that will help them (and you) be happiest?
The most thoughtful way to begin answering that question might be for you yourself to reflect on what are the most memorable holiday gifts you have ever received in your life. Having grown up in the Chicagoland area, I’ve always enjoyed the Chicago Tribune, and one of the best articles I’ve ever read in “the Trib” described how most people cannot remember the vast majority of gifts they’ve received.
Why is that? I think because no matter how much commercialism tries to convince us otherwise, the greatest gifts we receive are the intangible pleasures given by the most meaningful relationships we have. That is why gifts that are more personal in nature, like a card that your child creates with crayons or markers much more easily becomes a fixture in your office or on the kitchen refrigerator then does a store-bought and generic card. Those handmade gifts represent a person who took significant time to think about what they were giving to the person and put themselves “into” the gift.
This is not to say store-bought gifts are not valuable or appreciated. It is to say that store-bought gifts are far from the greatest and most important gifts that we can give to our children or each other.
In over a decade of working in the trenches with the full spectrum of children and adolescents – from gifted to deeply impaired – I have discovered that there is ONE GIFT ABOVE ALL that parents can give to their children that is – ironically – free, and also, priceless at the same time. But this gift cannot be given superficially, and it is not a one-time event, rather it is a gift with a journey attached. But even though there are innumerable values to this gift, I find it is one of the hardest gifts for parents to give their children.
The gift I speak of is the gift of a parent who is willing to constantly and earnestly ask their child one simple question – in an open way – where they make themselves vulnerable to their child or children: “What can we do to have a better relationship?”
You may be amazingly surprised by what you hear. I would suggest you keep your mouth closed as much as possible to maximize the chances your child feels like they have an opportunity to give their input thoroughly.
With the hundreds of children and adolescents of all stripes I have worked, I always ask this, “What do you wish were different about your parents?”. I have never had one child or adolescent tell me that they wish they were given more material things. Rather, the responses are the following: I wish they spent more time with me, I wish they didn’t yell at me so much, I wish they loved me more, I wish my parents wouldn’t be mean to each other, I wish my mom or dad did more fun stuff with me, etc. etc.
In lieu of this, what I am really saying is you cannot have a great relationship with your child unless you are consistently seeing their perspective on where the relationship is REALLY at. None of us were born great parents, myself included, but you can become a great parent through your willingness to ask this question.
The value of being able to ask this question to your child is discoverable through the following thought exercise: Think about how many of us have had people we thought could be friends, only to be let down when we find out that friend is not open to receiving feedback on patterns of behavior that are damaging to your relationship with them. Imagine how much better your friendships and social circle would be if you knew that those around you were consistently open to receiving feedback on what you thought was getting in the way of you having a better relationship with them?
No doubt, you realize your world could be amazingly more fulfilling. No doubt, your child’s opinion of the kind of relationship they can have with you drastically expand if you are willing to ask this one question.
In fact, it could be a very small number of emotional or behavioral patterns that are getting in your way of having a much richer relationship with your child. One of the most popular blogs I have ever written (https://www.doctorbrunner.com/10-character-flaws-that-can-derail-even-good-people) articulated how matter how many great qualities you have, you can be “derailed” by a few personality “derailers”, or “personality pricks”. In other words, a few of your most annoying qualities can make you very unattractive to others, even if you have a boatload of positive qualities.
To me, in a world that is increasingly cold, distant, transient, more about “connecting” than relating, more transactional rather than interpersonal, the frequency of a real relationship is so low they are nearly on the extinction list.
By giving the ONE GIFT ABOVE ALL to your child, you remind your child that relationships are to be cultivated and shepherded – even at the expense of their ego (that part of us tending toward narcissism) – is the most important thing in the world. Modeling to them how they can “leave their ego at the door” by leaving your ego at the door is also a Magical Gift. You are cultivating profound maturity and making them psychological millionaires.
If you make yourself vulnerable to them, it will teach them one of the most valuable Life Lessons: by keeping their ego in check they will climb to higher peaks of maturity and will grow old around a much richer set of relationships. In short, you will teach them what so few people these days understand: Relationships matter more than anything else in this world.
This holiday season I invite all you parents whose chief wish is for your child to be happy to recognize the power you have to give THE ONE GIFT ABOVE ALL. A gift that will not just make them happy, but truly joyful.
All parents have equal access to this priceless yet free of cost gift.
The question is, are you ready to give it?…Your answer may allow you to give gift your child will never forget!
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