The 2013 holiday season is officially upon us and while the wonder, fun, food and gifts of the next five or so weeks will certainly have your kids enjoying the festivities, our psychologists recommend that this is also a great time of year to slow down, show gratitude and nurture the giving spirits of the young people in our lives.
The hustle bustle of the holidays and the pressure that we parents often feel to see everyone and do everything can have our children feeling the pressure too. Taking time to model things like thankfulness, understanding and kindness will help children understand that no matter how busy we are, there is always time for gratitude and kindness.
With help from several of our Child Life specialists, here are some ideas for meaningful holiday activities that may just become family traditions traditions:
From Lynn: At Thanksgiving dinner or any other holiday dinner, invite each person to place an acorn, pine cone or stone into a bowl as he or she names something for which he or she is grateful. Don’t just limit the items to one each, allow kids extra turns if they’d like.
Also from Lynn: Harvest seasonal books available at the public library. Make it a tradition to cuddle and read together throughout the holiday season. It’s an opportunity to introduce children to other cultures and their traditions, or to further a child’s understanding of the holidays that your family celebrates. Dedicated reading time can also serve as a nice opportunity for quiet time during a season when people tend to live at a frantic pace.
From Sarah: Involve children in the process of picking out gifts for family members. Even very young children can take part. While you may hear a lot of “I want” during the process, it’s a good opportunity to teach them early that it’s not about “gimme” it’s about giving.
Also from Sarah: Make something to give to your neighbors. We’ve done cookies in a jar, popcorn, breads and hot cocoa mixes. It’s always something that we make together and then deliver to our neighbors.
From Cathie: Have the kids choose one of their new gifts to give away. Without playing with the gift or even opening the packaging, they choose one to give to another child. You may just be surprised which one(s) they choose.
From Jesika: Give children an “experience gift” instead of just “stuff.” Think swim lessons, a summer day camp session, a tumbling class or tickets to see a play or a music group – anything that will offer a new experience for the child.
From Karen: If your family celebrates by putting up a tree, consider adding a second, smaller tree that is completely for the kids to decorate with homemade ornaments and decorations. This also works well for grandparents to have a “grandkids” tree at their home that allows each child to express his or her own creativity.
And also from Lynn: There is a tradition that says animals speak on Christmas Eve. In celebration of this “miracle,” some families find it meaningful to put out food for wild creatures on the evening of December 24th. Young children can help decide what to put out for the animals. Older kids may enjoy making a birdfeeder or other vessel for the occasion. Something as simple as a bagel spread with peanut butter and then coated with birdseed makes a sturdy treat for birds and squirrels.
We also heard many ideas around taking time to participate in a service project as a family. The suggestions ranged from delivering meals to home-bound neighbors to kids raising money (hot chocolate stand at a craft bazaar, etc.) to purchase gift cards or toys for hospitalized children.
Another idea is to participate in holiday “adoption” programs. There are local, national and international opportunities and you can usually adopt a child, a family or a senior. Some international programs incorporate tracking features that allow your family to see where in the world your gift box is sent. Most kids find great joy in participating in these giving programs.
Service projects can be tailored through the years as kids get older and are capable of different things. You may hear some grumbles at first, but experiences, especially ones in which you help other people, will stick with kids for a long time.
And when it’s all over, make a day of making or writing cards to say thank you for a gift or act of kindness – it’s a simple way to help children further develop the quality of gratitude.
How does your family add meaning to the holidays? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.