We all want to provide our children with the best possible circumstances in the hope that they will thrive and prosper. Yet we know from personal experience that there is no such thing as a perfect childhood and we can breath a collective sigh of relief when we admit that there is no such thing as perfect parenting.

We cannot protect our children from the uncontrollable vagaries of life — illness, loss, disappointment, and hardship. Though difficult at the time, small struggles and monumental challenges present us with opportunities to learn and grow and can make us stronger, wiser, and more resilient in the long run. So, it makes sense to focus our precious energy and attention on what matters most and what we do have control over.

We know in our hearts that presents are not the best measure of Happy Holidays. You may like to carry on family traditions or create new ones of your own by decorating for the season, preparing special meals, or spending time with friends and family. Whatever your preferences may be, the greatest gift we can offer our children for Happy Holidays—and a Happy Childhood–is our loving presence.

In How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving, therapist David Richo explores the “Five A’s,” ingredients he considers essential for nourishing relationships in childhood and beyond. Whenever we are present and aware enough to do so, we can generously sprinkle these vital elements into our relationships during the holidays and throughout the year.

1. Attention

Undivided loving attention: the more we get, the better we feel. Sounds easy, but our busy schedules and ever-present devices make it hard to spend uninterrupted time together. Watch for chances to connect when you are least likely to be distracted. Engage with your loved ones while making cookies, going for a walk, reading a story, or playing a game. Small, regular doses of one-on-one time supply the good medicine needed to maintain peaceful, loving relations.

2. Acceptance

Doesn’t it feel great to spend time with someone who accepts you just the way you are? We’re most likely to feel safe enough to let down our defenses with someone who listens wholeheartedly without trying to change, fix, or deny our thoughts and feelings. As an experiment, practice listening without offering any of your usual commentary—suggestions, solutions, or stories, for instance. When tempted to jump in with your opinion try, “Hmmm, I never thought of that before.” You may be pleasantly surprised as tweens, teens, and spouses share more freely when you simply listen without needing to correct, critique, or lecture.

3. Appreciation

Even when you’re busy cooking or preparing for guests you can include children in the festivities by devising special assignments. My siblings and I used to make place setting cards and table decorations for our extended family gatherings. I remember the buzz of excitement I felt as everyone gathered around the dinner table admiring the elaborate artwork while searching for a seat at the table. Acknowledging every contribution, great and small, gives everyone a sense of value and belonging. Letting others know that you love them for who they are and not just what they do matters most of all.

4. Affection

My family’s dog, Kora, serves as a mobile love station. She gets more affectionate pets, coos, and caresses than anyone I know. Loving gestures — hugs, cuddles, and playful tussles — demonstrate love and caring more than words can say. A kindhearted smile, a playful tickle, or a cathartic belly laugh can instantly warm hearts and light up faces. Richo points out that introverts and extroverts may respond differently to attention, appreciation, and affection. Become aware of your loved ones preferences to make certain your loving messages are welcome and received.

5. Allowing

As parents we have the challenge and responsibility of guiding our children into and through the world until they become more capable of steering their own ship. Ideally, we can transmit what matters most to us while enabling them to express their true nature. Guaranteed, there will be many moments when our respective positions collide. The goal of any loving relationship is to communicate love and understanding even when we disagree with another person’s opinions, actions, and choices. Allowing others to express differing opinions leaves room for mutually respectful dialogue where our messages of concern have a greater chance of being heard. Ultimately, we are not in control of our children’s self-expression or destiny. The more we can allow natural consequences to teach life’s lessons the better.

Despite the stresses the holidays can bring, tender acts of love and kindness sweeten the moments we spend together and bring out the best we have to offer.

With warm wishes to you and your family for Happy Holidays and a Happy Journey through life together…