Epiphany - Dr. Wanda Roundtree Henderson
The Gifts That Last
Posted January 1st 2015

It is January 2015, and many of us are still reeling from the hustle and bustle of the holidays. And year after year, it becomes increasingly difficult for some folk to avoid the mounds of debt accumulated during the “Season of Giving”. It is a known fact that people’s insatiable quest after material possessions and the need to keep up with the “Joneses” often transcend socio-economic status, gender affiliation, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. For the most part, many of today’s parents/guardians strive very hard to provide gifts for their children that convey their unconditional love for them, and they are quite reasonable with their provisions. But then there are some who are bent on providing their children with the best toys and gadgets that this world has to offer. Often driven by guilt feelings that may or may not be justified, some seek resolution by continuing down the path of using material objects as a sort of inappropriate surrogate.

I contend that the eternal gifts are “gifts of the heart”. In our work with young children, we come to realize that the gifts that last are the teachable moments that occur between a child and an adult—a time when they seem to hold each other emotionally captive. The far and unusual places that words in a storybook can take children, a child’s learning arc and sense of accomplishment that are the result of having mastered a task in conjunction with a more capable other, and the look in a child’s eyes that conveys how much he adores you are very priceless gifts. These are the consummate gifts, perpetual favors, if you will. The gifts that last are not the objects that come in boxes, beautifully accentuated with wrapping paper, bows and ribbons. While the tradition of exchanging gifts has its place during the holiday season, I believe that it is the intimate engagements with our young that become, what I have dubbed, “close encounters of the third kind.” They simply make indelible impressions on children’s hearts and minds.

Developmentalist Urie Bronfenbrenner, who has written extensively about the ecological worlds of children, talks about “putting people back into the lives of children.” In a rather dated article: Who Cares For America’s Children (1971), which still has profound significance for contemporary society and tremendous appeal to today’s social scientists and educators, alike, Urie Bronfenbrenner suggests that society imposes pressures and priorities on families that allow neither time nor place for meaningful activities and relations between children and adults. According to Bronfenbrenner, “children need people in order to become “human”, an idea that is both fundamental but yet compelling. He writes, “In order for a child to become uniquely human, somebody has to be crazy about him—somebody has got to be irrationally involved in his life”. According to Bronfenbrenner, “a child cannot pull himself up by his own bootstraps” and it is primarily through meaningful interactions with those whom he loves and admires that the child discovers both what he can do and who he can become, that he develops both his ability and his identity. All of us bear the responsibility to become a significant part of children’s social landscape. The child’s engagement in meaningful interactions with significant others makes all the difference in the world. For the young and very innocent, these meaningful interactions and other renderings of the heart are truly the gifts that last.

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Reply from ShaNice Patterson posted on May 19th 2015
Children should be given a gift that can be significant to their learning. The meaning of things should be clear to children and they should understand the meaning of the things involved in their lives. Its important that children are given gifts like the tools to have strong/positive interactions with their peers. So that they can have those same relationship when they are adults. We need to give our children gifts/tools that will help them in adulthood. Isn't that the purpose of raising our children. Is to prepare them for the real world and its obstacles. We need to provide our children with the most important things in life. Once we do that we can be proud of our efforts to raising outstanding children!
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Reply from Demetra Rozakis posted on May 19th 2015
I definitely agree with this blog. As children I don't think we realize the true meaning behind important things, such as, Christmas. For example, my family was visiting Greece last summer and every year we bring stuff for my nephews and nieces. Well, last summer we brought them clothes and my nephew refused to say thank you because they were not toys. His mother had to beg him to say thank you. In the end, we need to remember that it is not the stuff we get, but the moments and thoughts we cherish that count. I feel as we get older we get a better understanding of what is important in life.
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Reply from Maritza G posted on May 7th 2015
I believe that the gifts that last are fundamental to any child's well being. What we have today are parents who never have time. They don't have time to go to the parent teacher conference. They don't have time to read their child a bedtime story. Time never changes. The moments that happen in front of you, do change. We as humans make little time for things that matter the most to us. Time keeps going and people get older. I believe we should cherish those gifts that last. Cherish the time you have getting your child ready in the morning. Cherish the time when you are tired and your child cuddles next to you. Cherish the that moment you take your child to school instead of focusing on things like how the light takes too long or how the guy in front of you didn't signal. The smiles, the laughs, everything that is in the moment are those gifts that you will carry forever in your heart.
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Reply from Angelina Marasigan posted on May 6th 2015
I completely agree with this blog. I have witnessed parents strive to deck out their children with the latest fashion trends, the expensive shoes, name brand clothing and beyond. In order to afford all these expensive gifts, they work so often that they barely spend quality time with their children. They give them toys and such to make up for the lack of time spent with them. Kids grow out of toys, grow out of the expensive clothing, then parents are left with less money, and a missed childhood. Money could always be made, but you could never get the time back that you miss out on.
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Reply from Shivani Patel posted on April 30th 2015
I honestly think that some parents are unconsciously promoting materialistic attitudes. I don't think that parents do it intentionally, but I believe children start to depend on these materialistic possessions. I hear a lot of people say that "Christmas is a time for giving", which it should be, however, it should be like that all the time not just for a specific holiday.If children are internalizing these values for one day than they are not applying it to their daily lives. Parents need to guide and show their children that there is more to life than materialistic possessions.
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Reply from Emily Elliott posted on April 28th 2015
I believe that the holidays are a time for friends and family to gather and take part in celebrating their lives and the people they have in them. Christmas has become over filled with the idea that buying gifts or receiving gifts is the main reason behind the holiday, but it's important to remember that Although we fool our kids into believing there's a fat, white bearded man coming down the chimney to drop off gifts to all the good kids, there is no Santas workshop in the North Pole and that the best gift about Christmas, is the gift of love and happiness.
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Reply from Victoria Thomas posted on April 28th 2015
Some children are materialistic but not all. I think in certain times like christmas or their birthday it is okay for a child to want something a little more than one toy from the store. Some children do go above and beyond and want to get everything below the sun but in my opinion that is not all on the children's shoulders how the parent teaches their child plays into the situation as well. But fundamentally I believe sometimes kids can be focused on something other than materialistic things if the parent molds them correctly.
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Reply from Jordan Milhous posted on April 27th 2015
My response to this blog is that it is totally correct. Children are too hung up on materialistic things and should be more hung up on playing outside with friends and family, touching and interacting with the environment and being more social with the people around them. I do agree that our culture puts pressure on us to go to get an education, to have the best presents for our kids and to have the best job or car around but that is not what life is all about. It's about those moments you cant get back with your children, the moment you see them succeeding or understanding something, those need to be the moments we live for. It's not about the presents under the Christmas tree but about the people you get to spend that moment with. As adults we cannot lose sight of that goal and need to cherish those moments with our kids. Let them have an imagination and not spoil them so much with materialistic things, but spoil them with unconditional love.
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Reply from Holly Feuerwerker posted on April 25th 2015
I think that children are too materialistic, the first and second graders at my work complain when they do not get to play on their iPad when they get home. When I was in the first grade I did not have any of that. On the weekends, when I was lucky, I would be able to play on my dads computer. For the most part I enjoyed being outside and enjoying the sunshine with my friends and sister. Parents defiantly buy amazing things for their children out of guilt; but who doesn't? One of the ways we make people feel better is by buying them things and making them feel loved. If the children of this generation do not have the love and support but instead have the materialistic items our world will change. The best parents are considered to be the ones who buys their child the best toys or most expensive item they want. Children always compare what they got for christmas and their birthday. This starts to put a hardship on parents because they do not feel the same appreciation as they used to. Instead of the warm hugs and quality times their children are becoming more focused on the most expensive toys.
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Reply from Seng posted on April 23rd 2015
Materialistic things are only good for a few minutes, and then forgotten. It doesn't last a lifetime of expression. However, to create a bond and a caring relationship with a child can last for a lifetime. Often in this new world with fast internet and technology, some parents can easily replaced their love and care for their child with technology. This is why it is important to discuss this issue, because parents need to be remind and turn back time to understand that their time and love for their child is the most important thing that a child needs the most; not the cellphone, toy, or shoes. It is important for parent to see and understands that their love and time is especially important to their child, because these are the moments that are the most precious, special, and meaningful. However, if a parent does not spend a lot of time with the child, then that child can grow up to be distant and withdraw from the parent; but if a parent is loving and caring towards the child, then it shows the child that the parent cares and love for the child. In other words, the things parents do determine the relationship with their child. Also, spending time with their child is important because it creates a special bond between the child and parent. These are important elements towards a great relationship between the child and parent. Although I didn't grew up with materialistic things, I still remember the field trips that my parents took me, in compare to a toy that my parents bought when I was younger. Because the field trips holds a special meaning to me, I tend to remember and appreciates those the most. This is why it is important for parents to spend time with their child. Time is precious, and most often than not, it is the only thing that a child need and want the most from their parent. Instead of valuing materialistic things, parents must learn to set a time to spend with their child, even though it may be difficult to do so. It is important that the parent learn to give their time to love and spend with the child, and not materialistic things, as these things can easily get overlooked and forgotten.
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Reply from Kathleen posted on April 22nd 2015
Growing up I was incredibly lucky to have a huge extended family. Tons of cousins and aunts and uncles. Holidays were always exciting and chaotic but great. Buying presents was always expensive, so eventually we began drawing names out of a hat and set a limit and had to buy a gift for that one specific person. There were so many great things about this that have brought my family as whole together; we got to learn more about individual family members and bonded on a different levels. This helped keep me and my cousins grounded. We appreciate what we have and more importantly the gift we gave or received was more meaningful because there was so much more thought put into it, instead of jsut getting the latest and greatest. I think teaching young children to appreciate what the have and to value their belongings they will grow to be more well rounded appreciatve people.
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Reply from Elizabeth Cruz posted on April 6th 2015
Across all cultures parents strive for their children to have more than they did as children. This often times leads to parents overcompensating and trying to buy their children’s happiness. Just as this post states we as parents often forget that all our children really need is our love and the opportunity to spend time with us. Children will ask for the newest gadgets and toys, yet they don’t realize that as they get older they will cherish the time they spent with their parents. Personally as a child my parents worked and family members were often watching me, yet we still didn’t have a lot of money. This was something that I knew and realized I wouldn’t be able to get every toy I wanted. This led me to appreciate the items I did receive and the time I was able to spend with my parents. This post is something many parents need to hear and try to understand and apply in their daily lives.
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Reply from Samantha Woodward posted on April 2nd 2015
Growing up I have been blessed with having a very involved family. I think that it is very important that parents take the time in their children's lives to help them grow. Love is more important than any gift a parent can buy, whether the child sees that or not. A child will not learn if they are all caught up in the technology. It would be beneficial if we all took a minute to step away from our smart phones and go play outside!
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Reply from Carson Arnold posted on March 26th 2015
Being active in your child's life is the most important thing you can do for them and their future. Growing up my mom was overly active in my life and I feel she helped me open many doors and her and I have a very close bond. When I see other kids who's parents had no clue what they were doing or who they were with they always seemed to get themselves in trouble and didn't have a close bond with their parents. Being active in your child's life should be a given/mandatory. If you want your child to be able to learn and succeed they need help. They can't figure out how to push themselves on their own. They need their parents to be their number one fans and shower them with love and positive energy.
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Reply from Chelsea Deavers posted on February 5th 2015
I completely agree with this post, however, I feel many parents forget this. I work at an independent school that caters to higher income families and I see way too often how many times children are ignored and just given items instead of time spent together. Just recently even, we had a four year old child who broke down crying to a teacher telling her how much he just wants to spend time with his mother, but can\'t because his two younger siblings take up most of her time. It was heartbreaking to hear that. I believe that if children are taught that \"it\'s the thought that counts\" earlier in life they would not expect expensive gifts for everything. There are the few families at my work that throw charity parties instead of birthday parties where the children ask for things to be donated to the charity of their choice rather than receiving gifts for their birthdays and I think that is wonderful. They already get gifts from their families so from their friends they ask to give back to the community. If more parents and families had these kinds of thoughts then children would not expect materialistic items (or money as older children tend to ask for) and instead would understand that the love and time spent together as a family is what is most important. Parents need to realize that they are teaching children that what they get for the holidays is more important than the time spent together. This is something that needs to change ASAP or we will have a world filled with spoiled, ungrateful people.
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Reply from Lindsey Pitts (Quail) posted on February 5th 2015
I think this is something that parents need to remember daily, not only at Christmas, but throughout the year when schedules are busy and technology rules many of our lives. As a parent, sometimes you just have to put everything down and pause. We live in a time where things are instant, we all want better and more, and as Marisela mentioned, at the end of the day parent’s just want their children to have what they couldn’t. This is a quote I use to remind myself, as a parent, to slow down. “To a child love is spelled t.i.m.e.” I heard this quote early on in my college career, and after experiencing life and Christmas’s with my own kids, I’ve learned first hand how true it is. My kid’s are the happiest when I’m doing things with them, whether we are using technology or our own creativity. They remember and learn from the moments with the people who make them happy, not sitting by themselves passing time on a tablet. I remember one of our first Christmas’s as a family, after all the presents were opened, the thing my daughter played with the most was the wrapping paper. I was a little discouraged, because we had gotten her lots of cool toys. Yet she was having more fun crunching, eating, and playing peek-a-boo with the paper. It was then that I had an “aha” moment about life, parenting, and Christmas. My child didn’t need things to be happy, she needed me. It is hard as kids get older to keep this idea alive. My daughter is in kindergarten this year, and it was the first time she made a list of things she “wanted” for Christmas. It was a good teaching moment for me, because there was no way I was getting her most of the things on her list. But the point was, it was the first time she had really experienced the consumerism of the holiday. At her preschool, discussion of Christmas hadn’t really been about presents, and now she had been exposed to “the toy catalog.” I think parents “do, do, do” for their kids partially because they truly think it’s going to make them happy, but also out of guilt of not getting enough time with them. Being a parent isn’t easy- they have bills to pay, chores to get done, errands to run, and most have to go to work. It’s hard to find that balance, but making the time for your kids not only makes a difference in the child’s life, I think it can make a difference in the parent’s life by reminding them of what really matters.
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Reply from Kelli Panos posted on February 4th 2015
I enjoyed reading this post. I too think that parents feel obligated to get their children all the latest gadgets and toys and think that their children will dislike whatever they get. Coming from a family that struggled a lot, particularly during the holidays, I remember my parents telling me that I may not get a whole bunch of toys and presents that year because they just couldn't afford all of it, but 'Santa' for sure would bring me something. My parents were very upfront with me about their financial state. Although I was young, I understood. As I grew older I really began to understand and never was upset with what I was given. I never got an excessive amount of presents but I got what I always did. About 2 presents from my parents. Compared to some of my friend 2 was like stocking stuffers for them (never did stockings). My point is that the child will never dislike something they are given as long as from a young age they are told about how things are. I was always told up front and nothing was sugar coated and my parents knew I would never hate their gifts, which I think helped them not feel that competition with the other parents and children during the holidays.
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Reply from Amanda Huynh posted on February 3rd 2015
This was a very meaningful post. While it is undeniable that parents and adults shower children in materialistic gifts, it is a two-way street. Children today are expectant of lavish gadgets and technological devices. From the majority of my observations every day, children do not shy away from expressing their frustrations and dissatisfactions with more economical gifts. A prime example (though media-driven) of this is the Jimmy Kimmel gig of having parents record their children opening measly presents for the holidays. Although it is a prank, these videos illustrate how children’s negativity towards non-lavish gifts encourage and, possibly even pressurize, parents to spend beyond their economic ability to provide their children with material gifts. Despite so, I do agree that “gifts of the heart” are what defines a child’s happiness. In the long run, it is these “moments” of substance that people look back on and find gratification. As with most everything, it is important to find a balance of moderation in providing both materialistic possessions and “gifts from the heart”.
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Reply from Arianna Oneto posted on January 30th 2015
I think this is all too true in today's society. Parents are becoming competitive in their abilities to provide the most and best for their children. However, I think that many miss the mark. They forget that quality interactions will always outweigh the desire for the hottest toy, even if children don't realize it at his or her young age. While I have many memorable Christmases where I received exactly what I had been hoping for, I am more appreciative of the time I got to spend with my mom and dad which ultimately produced the close relationship I still hold with each of them today. They were always there, they provided what they could, and they loved me unconditionally and I think that in the end that is all that any child really needs.
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Reply from Marisela Rivera posted on January 28th 2015
In response to this post, I believe that it can be seen across cultures that a goal for parents is to give their offspring a better life than their own. This may result in putting their child up for adoption, enrolling them in the extracurricular activities they were never able to be a part of, gifting electronics, and ever so often, a parent will make the decision to spend more quality time with their child than their parent did with them. Quality is the key word here. How many times has your bonding with a child involved watching a movie, or playing video games? Although these type of activities may be stimulating for the child, nothing can replace the “aha” moments a child experiences, for example when they finally learn how to ride a bike, or learn to write their name. I know that even comparing my childhood to my youngest brother’s childhood (10 year age gap) they are hardly alike. I played outside with all the kids on the street until the streetlights came on, while him and his friends play online on their PS4’s and talk to each other through a headset. I believe that my childhood is more similar to that of my parents’ rather than his; all due to technology. Don’t get me wrong as I can hardly go an hour without glancing at my cellphone or logging onto Instagram, and do use various electronics in a day. We adapt to changing times. I hope that as technology continues to advance, we do not as a race, forget the importance of face-to-face interaction with each other and especially with our young.
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Reply from Kimberly Gordon Biddle posted on January 29th 2015
Great response, Marisela! Dr. Biddle
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