We all want our kids to be appreciative for what they have, but the holidays and winter can be…a lot. And now we have an ongoing pandemic to consider as well, with its own constraints and issues—it’s possible it will be another year of long-distance connection with family and friends. With parents and caregivers feeling depleted, maybe it’s time to try some approaches with an eye toward encouraging the spirit of giving? Here are some ideas for bringing a lens of generosity and gratitude to the season:
Model what you want to see. Modeling is always the most effective way to teach, though sometimes the toughest. If we are not able to keep our own emotional equilibrium, it can be hard to model a grateful lens or a generous spirit. This means modeling multiple things: 1) taking great care of yourself so your cup is full enough (fuse is long enough), 2) noticing when you feel gratitude and expressing it out loud in front of your children and 3) showing up to give and care for other in your neighborhood or community.
Try some old-fashioned letter writing. Everyone loves getting mail. Think of a friend who isn’t expecting a note, an older relative who might be feeling a little lonely or anyone who could need a little pick-me-up. Send along a short note or drawing from your child. Or take dictation from you little one. This can be a very funny endeavor! Ask them what they like about that person or what the best part of their day was. Or have them tell you how they would make a holiday recipe (complete with ingredient list and how long to cook it for—LOL).
Get outside! I know it can be a little cold out there, but once again, I’ll bring up the well-loved saying, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Hosting an outdoor meal or gathering can be a safer way to socialize, given the circumstances. Bust out the hot cocoa, have a small campfire or bundle up and go for a walk on a wooded trail or even just around the block.
Decorate something. It’s real that chronic discouragement is sucking our festive impulses out of us.Have your kids help you pick one thing to brighten up. Maybe it’s lights in one window. Or removeable stickers on your mailbox. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing to bring a little cheer. Poke around a thrift store for an outrageous holiday themed sweater to wear just for giggles (I know a teacher who wears a wild holiday themed sweater every day in December).
Share your gratitude. Make it a habit to practice gratitude on a regular basis. Share what you’re grateful for at dinner. Ask your kids what they are grateful for. Start a list that gets posted on the refrigerator or wall. Keep it going.
Consider simplifying your traditions. It’s easy to get caught up in the consumerism of blowing your child’s mind with the magic of the season. No judgment if your style is a splashy holiday, though it can help to remember that children—especially young ones—can get overwhelmed by too much fanfare. Maybe it’s OK to take a more mellow approach this year? Experiment with scaling back in ways that feel comfortable. Some people have success with a four-gift formula: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.
No matter how you end up handling the holidays (or promoting generosity and gratitude) perhaps aim to prioritize your peace and practice letting go of previous ways and expectations, and along with them—some stress. If any of these ideas are going to add stress, don’t do it. Only you know what is going to bring the joy. Whatever it is, do more of that.
This article was originally published in the November/December 2021 issue of Parent & Family.
Sarah MacLaughlin is author of the award-winning book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children and the 2021 release, Raising Humans With Heart. Her writing has also been featured in The Huffington Post. Sarah is a human development nerd who brings over 30 years of experience working with children and families to her coaching practice. Sarah is also mom to a teenager who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice. Reach out for parenting support via her “Get In Touch” page.