Baking. Lights. Concerts. Parties. What are your most favorite traditions that surround the holidays?
I remember baking gingerbread cookies with my grandmother. Skating on the lake, now three feet think in ice. Making homemade decorations for the tree. Strings of tiny lights magnificently displayed in the yard.
As a child the weeks leading up to my favorite holiday were filled with meaningful traditions, of family and friends. Each day was designed to make it “easier” to wait until Christmas eve when Santa would come with presents. Anticipation grew with each day but all the preparations had to be complete before the big-day.
Now as an adult, with training in neuroscience, child development, and communication, I look at these traditions in a different light. Over time those traditions actually did make it easier to wait by changing neurochemistry that supports brain function for social and emotional behaviors.
#1 Brain chemistry improves
Dopamine is the feel good hormone. It is stimulated in the brain when we have good experiences. By anticipating future positive events, dopamine is output in slightly larger than usual amounts over a sustained period of time into the brain’s chemical pathways.
When conversations are positive and children feel well supported in the activities of the season, they experience joy. This is good news for the young brain. Healthy levels of dopamine will support healthy mood and possibly ward off mild depressive tendencies.
#2 Sense of future improves
As we look happily to future events brain processes that support an awareness of the future and it’s importance, strengthen, leading to quicker response times. This allows additional neurological growth toward planning. In fact, people who tend to live only in the moment usually respond well to anticipatory therapies that effectively reduce how much they discount the future.
#3 Memory improves
Our sense of future overlaps with the mental processes and brain regions associated with memory. Not only are these traditions creating positive happy memories, but they are helping to improve our capacity to remember.
#4 Patience develops
As we learn to wait well, and anticipate future positive events, patience develops. Planning and preparing for upcoming events helps us see that work is involved which balances our desire for instant gratification. Immediate responses to our “wanting,” or consistently getting what we want quickly, leads to decreased social behavior, superficial relationships, and an inability to cope with stress.
#5 Focus on others
Relationships that we develop when we spend quality time with family and friends repeatedly, supports growth toward an outward mindset. When we recognize that others are people with needs similar to ours, then they become real. Experiences become meaningful. And we understand the world around us in a more realistic way.
Next time that a darling child begs for her presents early. I hope you’ll take a minute to weigh-in on all of the aspects of development associated with learning to wait before you say “yes.”