How Do You Explain Christmas to a Two Year Old?

V in her happy place, drawing away.

Test Subject V is two now.

Two is not always fun.

Her favorite three words are, in no particular order, “no,” “mine,” and “me.” Often in long strings. For example, “No no no MINE MINE MINE Daddy MINE.” She’ll do that when nobody is even touching anything of hers.

Her birthday was a few weeks ago, and for the month or so beforehand, all the way through this week, she has been having a ridiculously tough sleep regression—this kid has always been a good sleeper, and suddenly we were living with a teenager who wanted to be up past midnight and sleep all morning.

She has been emotionally very raw, and we’re both exhausted. She has not been handling external stressors—or even internal ones—well at all. And toddlers in general… they just have such big emotions inside such tiny little bodies.

Before her birthday, we read a book called Corduroy’s Party that really helped her understand what a birthday party was. She knew there was singing and cake with a candle and gifts and friends, and she was ready for it.

In a way it was similar to when we flew out to Dayton last summer, when I had her watch several videos of planes taking off and landing, and one video made by a father for his son who had ASD that really tried to prepare him for how boarding a plane etc. worked. V watched it for days before the flight, and she knew what to expect. She was a great passenger, and I attribute it to that video.

When a toddler is in one of these raw phases, or at least when V is, anything that is not part of her routine can be deeply destabilizing. With Christmas coming soon, and after a week in which many days involved literally hours of crying, I was starting to get worried about the holiday, and started trying to look for a video that explained Christmas.

I couldn’t find any videos that quite did what I wanted—something that just explained the very basics of Christmas, that there’s a tree and decorations and family, and that unlike her birthday, everyone gets gifts, not just her. So My Colleague and I sat down with V while she was drawing today to have a little talk with her.

V loves to draw, and can occupy herself for an hour or more, just drawing with her colored pencils, or markers, or crayons. She’s starting to make shapes, now, too. She’s been drawing circles lately and telling us they were balls.

I thought it might be a good time to talk to her because she was quiet and focused. My Colleague had the brilliant idea to draw with her. It brought V into the conversation in a way she wouldn’t have been otherwise. She began to draw a Christmas tree with a Crayola marker.

And as she did that, we talked to V about Christmas, and how it’s a day in our culture where families get together with people they love, and everyone sits by a tree, and under the tree everyone puts presents.

I drew three little red presents with a green bow on each. And one of the presents was for V, and one was for Mommy, and one was for Daddy.

A somewhat crude and messy drawing of a Christmas tree with three red presents underneath it.

Then V took the red marker and drew a crude square and colored it in. I hadn’t seen her draw squares or rectangles, really before. I asked if it was a present like the ones I had drawn, and V nodded. I started to draw a green bow on her present, like I had drawn on the presents I drew, and I asked her who that big present was for.

She looked at me with a look of almost euphoric pride and said “ME!”

We might not get past the “MINE MINE MINEs” before Christmas, I know. But I think she got some of the basics. I asked her which present was for Daddy and she pointed to the one I had said was for me. So maybe she might understand that other people might get gifts.

I’ll probably do that again for the next couple days. She’ll at least make a few associations, and hopefully, the day will be just a little smoother for it. Anyway, that’s the hope.

I hope everyone who celebrates the holiday has a wonderful, warm, and merry Christmas. And for them that don’t, I hope you at least get a couple days off to rest and do some self-care, or barring that, you know, time-and-a-half.

The Christmas tree drawing again, this time cropped less so that you can see V’s enormous present.

One reply on “How Do You Explain Christmas to a Two Year Old?”

I decided to ask the other pediatric neuropsychologists I know on the International LISTSERV. Will let you know if they have any wisdom to share. Off the top of my head, you could throw together a Christmas Tree from an empty TP roll and colored paper. Use her dolls to play out the day.

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