If you're anything like me, the holidays aren't just about love and joy and holiday cheer. They're about…gift buying and receiving. Yes, I said it. This aspect of the holiday can cause significant stress, but by applying the psychology concept of "reframing"— we can see it in a more positive way.

Think about it as an opportunity to find something educational and engaging for your child, and below are some ideas below to get you started if you need some last minute gifts:

Turn-taking games such as board games, card games, and even video games teach our children control skills. When a child is required to wait and allow another person to play, he is practicing holding back a response. This is a method of behavioral control called inhibition.

The front of the brain is responsible for these skills and it is exercised anytime we ask kids to wait. A child's ability to control their thoughts and behavior relates to classroom performance and is essential when holding back inappropriate responses or actions.

Guessing and Strategy games including Clue, puzzles, Chess, Checkers, Mancala, Uno, and Battleship teach our kids problem solving skills. Problem solving is a whole brain activity, so it's a big bang for your buck!

Kids have to use what they've previously learned, incorporate that with new information, and then make a judgment call about what do next. Problem solving is a very important aspect of kids learning and development as they learn to use what they've learned to answer questions or find solutions.

Think fast games include Family Feud, Bop It!, Catch Phrase, and Simon-like games. When kids are required to think quickly, they work toward improving their processing speed. This is an activity that strengthens the front of their brain along with the connections with their learning and memory centers. It also enhances their attention and concentration. These skills are essential to enhancing their learning in a classroom and their ability to think on their feet!

Motor games can improve fine and gross motor skills. K'Nex, Legos, and even the game Operation work fine motor skills. While games such as soccer, basketball, and lacrosse build gross motor skills and coordination. Both forms of motor movement are important for different reasons. Fine motor control relates to thinking skills and has been associated with better math, reading, and science skills.

Gross motor skills such as those required to play sports promotes the development of coordination, a skill in the back of the brain. They also promote movement and exercise, which has been shown to cleanse the brain and improve thinking.

Dress up/Job practice games including toys like gardener sets, cooking sets, tool sets, as well as dress up clothes used for imaginary play encourage imagination, creativity, and social skills. When kids imitate, it is a sign that they're absorbing information from their world. This skill assists with the development of empathy, which is used when understanding how others feel and act. Kids also learn about how others interact through imaginative play.

When children engage in imaginary play, they practice social interactions. They actually script social situations and see how things will "turn out" if they say "I don't like that!" or "You're not my best friend anymore." As kids act out these scenarios through their play, they build the social and emotional pathways in their brain.

Gift giving is actually a lesson in itself. Kids can practice their social skills when you encourage them to think about what another person would want, what is an appropriate gift for the situation, or how the other person would feel about receiving a gift. This practice builds the social and thinking areas of our brain.

So how do you approach gift giving and receiving this holiday and for the future?

  1. Look at the list above and decide what your child would benefit from learning the most.

  2. Choose a gift that aligns with this skill for your holiday surprise.

  3. Ask your child to give a gift or two this holiday season to practice social thinking.

  4. Sit back, relax, and feel good about giving your children the gift of boosting their brain development.