Happy family preparing a healthy dinner at home.Holiday traditions offer more than fun during this festive season; for young kids, they are a chance to develop skills that will make them successful in kindergarten and beyond. “Research shows that so-called ‘soft skills’ – the ability to communicate, get along well with others, control oneself and delay gratification, among other things – impact various outcomes for kids, including test scores and high school graduation,” said Ginger Sandweg, First Things First Senior Director for Early Learning. “Holiday traditions offer many opportunities to help toddlers and preschoolers develop those skills.” For example:

  • Religious services – in addition to teaching children values, they give kids the opportunity to learn the importance of getting along well with others, to pay attention, and to control themselves.
  • Family gatherings and cultural traditions – especially having a specific role or responsibility in the celebration (setting the table for a family dinner, for example) – give children a sense of security and help them to build self-esteem.
  • Charitable contributions or events – teach children how to consider the needs and feelings of others.

Because they are still learning and may have a shorter attention span, Sandweg said young kids need a little extra support from adults to enjoy holiday traditions. “The best way to prepare kids for holiday events is to talk with them beforehand – several times over a few days, if possible – about what is expected of them. Be sure to let them know that you are there to help if they don’t understand what’s going on,” Sandweg said. “During the actual event, check in often; ask kids questions about what’s going on around them; and, listen patiently to their answers. When praising positive behavior, be as specific as possible.” Sandweg said the holiday season also offers many opportunities to teach or reinforce academic skills with young children. “Holiday decorating, baking or singing along to festive music are all ways that children are building knowledge,” Sandweg said. “Helping to count or measure ingredients, talking about the colors and shapes of decorations, listening to stories about where cultural traditions come from and learning new words to songs – all of these help children develop vocabulary and learn about important concepts like number value, shape and texture.” By making young kids part of our holiday traditions, she said, families are doing more than passing on holiday rituals and practices; they are giving infants, toddlers and preschoolers the skills that will be crucial to their success in school and beyond!