If you're like most families, the approach of the holiday season brings with it the anticipation of a few weeks filled with family togetherness and merry memory-making -- in other words, the holidays as you've always imagined them. But when it comes to kids, how can you make the holiday more about the feeling and less about the stuff?
Instead of showering your kids with a pile of this year's hot clothes, toys and electronics (which, let's face it, will probably be collecting dust by the end of the school year), make it a tradition to give your kids the gift of a memorable holiday experience. It's amazing how much kids value and remember family traditions. Unlike anything else, they're a source of fun, they strengthen family bonds and they form a meaningful link to the past. Whether you're baking cookies, watching a favorite holiday movie or piling into the car to look at neighborhood lights, don't underestimate the value of time spent together, enjoying each other's company.
Here are 9 tips to make the holidays meaningful for your kids:
- Find holiday events to attend together. Check out the holiday-themed concerts, plays, parades, shows and other events happening in your community and choose a few to attend as a family. Your kids (and you!) will enjoy counting down to these outings, and you'll have an even better time attending them. Plus, everyone will remember the live holiday music performance at the high school or the holiday-themed magic show much longer than they will a bunch of action figures under the tree. Even better? In most communities, there are plenty of events to choose from that are free to the public. You honestly don't have to spend a mint to make memories over the holidays.
- There really is no place like home for the holidays. Making special holiday memories doesn't always have to mean going somewhere. In fact, some of your most treasured experiences can be created inside the four walls of your house, and they don't have to cost a lot of money or cause a lot of stress to be perfect. Take a regular weeknight dinner and turn it into a magical holiday meal by dimming the lights, lighting candles on the table and playing holiday music in the background. Serve sparkling juice or cider in special glasses and pull out the fancy china for once. It's a special night you and your family won't soon forget.
- Set your family up for success. On the best of days, kids will be kids -- and their propensity for energy, misbehavior and hijinks grows exponentially when they're excited. Whenever your family is preparing for any sort of event this season, go over your expectations -- and potential consequences -- beforehand so everyone's on the same page. And take a minute to remind yourself that kids are often overstimulated, overexcited and saturated with sugar this time of year. If you don't think your brood can handle sitting still for an hour-long concert, then make the choice not to go. You'll save yourself a lot of stress, frustration and disappointment in the long run.
- Make meaningful conversation. Conversations are often the most special part of memorable event. To make the most of outings and experiences this holiday season, have a few solid topics up your sleeve to engage your family. Otherwise, you'll find yourself griping about to-do lists, homework and basketball schedules during your special outing instead of the things you really wanted to share. As you drive around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights, maybe ask your kids about their favorite Christmas memories or what they're grateful for in their lives. Or, before attending a church service or local event, sit down and talk about what Christmas truly means to each member of your family. You may be surprised at the answers -- and it will make each event and activity that much more meaningful.
- Dress up! It's amazing how getting all dolled up can take an event from "meh" to memorable. If you frame your holiday outings as opportunities instead of as obligations, your kids may not mind putting on their fancy duds -- and they'll definitely remember the fact that you thought that they were mature enough to attend such a special event. (And if you're super-lucky, maybe you can snap a few pics of everyone all dressed up!)
- Make something out of nothing. A meaningful holiday experience doesn't have to cost a ton, and it doesn't have to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. In fact, your family can make routine holiday tasks into beloved traditions. For example, get everyone together to wrap gifts for friends and family, and share hot chocolate and cookies while you're curling ribbon and cutting paper. Or let everyone climb into special holiday pajamas and pile into the car to look at the beautiful holiday lights in your town.
- Give thanks. As the saying goes, "Remember the reason for the season." Depending on your family's beliefs and background, that "reason" might differ from your neighbor's, but one thing's for sure: This is a time to be grateful and to count blessings. When your family visits a friend or attends a cool event, take a moment to point out to your kids how fortunate they are to have such special people and opportunities in their lives. Go around the dinner table and give everyone a chance to express gratitude for specific people or things they're thankful for. And remind your kids that not every child around the world is so privileged.
- Give back. If your family is counting its blessings, the natural next step is to reach out to those whose holiday seasons might not be filled with much cheer. Consider donating to a charity instead of giving as many gifts, volunteering at a shelter or caroling at a nursing home. There are myriad opportunities to help those in need in your own community. This is the perfect time of year to teach children that it truly is better to give than to receive -- and it can actually feel really good, too. These experiences will instill values in your kids and broaden their perspective on the true meaning of Christmas.
- Live in the moment. It's easy to get caught up in the hoopla of the holidays and forget to take a step back and just savor the special moments. There's so much to be done, but focusing on it all instead of what you're doing at the moment can suck a lot of joy out of the season. If you're constantly setting your sights on the next holiday party or dance recital on your calendar, you won't be fully enjoying the activity you're currently doing. Reveling in the now and accepting the (minor) flaws that might come along allows you to truly experience the benefits of living in the present. Those moments with family and friends will be that much sweeter.
Best wishes for a festive and meaningful holiday season!