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The Holiday Time with Baby
by Meredith Lord, Child Development Professional

I’m sure we have all noticed by now that the holiday season is upon us. It started with a small orange-and-black display at a few retail stores as early as August, and now we have been fully immersed in holiday paraphernalia at every turn. Whether you celebrate each and every holiday on the calendar, or you choose to avoid all holidays as much as possible, it is important to give some thought to your baby’s involvement in the holiday season. Special occasions, such as holiday celebrations, are a perfect way to pass along your family’s traditions and values to the next generation. They can also be a stress-filled nightmare for you and your baby. Here are some tips to remember that will help you to bring out the positive side of the holiday season.

1. Your baby can feel your stress (and so can everyone else in your household). If an event, shopping trip, or party has you really stressed out, think very closely about WHY you are trying to get this thing done. Are you feeling social pressure to attend an office party? Are you feeling pressure from your spouse to host a super-fabulous New Year’s party? Do you make cookies for your cousins every year and feel obliged to do it again this year? After you have determined why, ask yourself if the stress is really worth it, or if perhaps there is some other alternative. Will your boss understand if you tell her you have a new baby at home, so you really can’t go to the holiday party this year? Is your spouse willing to take on extra responsibilities to pull together the New Year’s party? Would it be easier to “pass on the family recipe” this year and send the cousins cookie cutters and a card instead? Keep in mind that everyone in your household is affected by your own personal stress, and that you are affected by everyone else’s. This is why so many families have break-downs during the holiday season, because stress is so easily compounded.

2. The odds are that your baby will not remember any part of his or her first holiday season. Recent research has been able to study the development of memory with much greater accuracy than ever before, and many psychologists and social scientists still believe that we carry no clear memory of our first three years into adulthood. At best, young children can recognize objects or places for up to two years. So, next year your baby may feel pangs of familiarity with some aspects of the celebration, but your 12-year-old will never say, “Hey, I just remembered that uncle Nestor wasn’t at my first birthday party. Where was he?” As adults, some of us think that we remember certain events or places from our early years, but this is actually an interesting phenomenon. Our brain takes photographs we have seen and stories what we have heard turning them into perceived memories. Please remember this when you find yourself saying, “But I just want her first Kwanza to be really special.” It will be really special if you are there and you show her that you love her by meeting her basic needs and smiling at her beautiful face.

3. Young children think that the box is just as cool as the toy that came inside. Babies and toddlers DO NOT need fancy, expensive, “educational” toys to make them happy or to learn. We all feel the pressure to buy, buy, buy, especially around Chanukah and Christmas, but the best gift we can give our children is our time and our undivided attention (which can be MUCH more difficult to give at times). If you consider your options and still feel compelled to buy something, head to your local independent bookstore and tell the sales clerk the age of the child you are buying for. Books are one of the only presents you can give that truly keeps on giving long after the holiday has passed.

4. Holiday parties are fun, but your baby still needs a predictable schedule. Infants need predictability to feel secure and confident about the world around them. They need to know that they will be fed when they are hungry and that they will be laid down to sleep when they are tired so they can build upon a secure attachment with you. This is the base upon which all future emotional development will be laid, so it is important to not disrupt an infant’s schedule each weekend, just because it is the holiday season. It is possible to find a comfortable compromise between your wants and your baby’s ideal schedule, it just takes some planning. When planning your baby’s away-from-home feedings remember that both prepared formula and expressed breast-milk have only 1 to 2 hours after they have warmed to 42°F before they have grown enough bacteria to be potentially hazardous to your baby. Because of this, either breast-feeding on-site or bringing powdered or factory-sealed liquid formula with you are the best options. As for sleeping, do not be afraid to ask your host or hostess for a quiet corner to set up your port-a-crib.

5. Your baby does not intrinsically know which people are family members and which are not. You may see a room full of family and friends, but your baby sees a room full of strangers. Think about your baby’s temperament and about his or her typical reaction to strangers before you start passing your baby around. When Aunt Rochelle asks if she can hold your baby, it is perfectly polite to say, “Actually, he’s a little bit overwhelmed with all of the people here today, but if he relaxes a little bit later on, I’ll be sure to let you know. I want to make sure he gets a chance to meet his Aunt Rochelle!”

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