"Happy Holidays!" "Happy Hanukkah!" Even in our greetings, this time of year come with a lot of expectations. For many families, the "happy" and "merry" expectations can cause great stress and anxiety -- not just for you as an adult, but for your children, too.
It is important to remember that, at all times, your children are watching. They're watching as you rush around trying to create the perfect holiday decorations, buy just the right holiday gifts for everyone and create amazing holiday meals. They are watching as you work toward impossible perfection. And, if you turn the holidays into an obligation and stressful quest for perfection, that is how your children will view the holidays as well.
This is the time to take a step back and remember to reflect the golden rule in parenting: be what you want to see. This is an excellent opportunity for you as the parent to model for your children what this time is really about: bonding, togetherness, giving, and making memories.
During the holidays, watch your children for typical signs of stress, including:
• Wetting the bed, and other forms of returning to regressive childhood
• Aggressive behavior such as unusual bossiness, bullying and fighting
• Changes in eating habits
• Changes in grades and school behavior
• Crankiness, because they're too tired from rushing about from place to place.
A healthy way to move past feelings of stress, depression and sadness is to use that energy in a positive and constructive manner.
Here are some ways in which you can help make the holidays stress-free for your family:
• Take your children to volunteer at an animal shelter or homeless shelter together as a family. Gather old coats, blankets, food and donate them to families in need. By focusing on others, you teach your children how to activate their altruistic sense of compassion and goodwill. Acting on these feelings through random acts of kindness, you and your children can reduce stress and replace it with the warm glow of satisfaction.
• Spend a weekend making gifts for friends and relatives with the recipients in mind. For example, if Aunt Sally's favorite place on earth is the beach, you and your children can paint pictures of the beach and ocean and frame them. This helps teach your children to think about other people's interests and what would make them happy
• Talk with family elders about the way in which they celebrated the holidays in their youth. Life is a collection of your memories, and children love to hear the happy and fun experiences that make up the moments of their family history.
• Don't view your child as a reflection of you by asking him to be perfect in either his dress or behavior. Relax on your expectations of child conduct and allow your child to shine just as he is this holiday season.
• Give the gift of time, art, and creativity this season. Write poems, plays and songs together that can be performed for the family during the holidays.
• Encourage each family member to create a gratitude list that can be shared during the holiday meal. The simple act of acknowledging all that we have is often enough to ease up the stress and let us relax into the holiday moments just as they are.
The memories you make with your children are really what life is about, and your relationships with others are the key to those memories. By simplifying your life and managing expectations during this time of the year, you can focus on what is really important: family, community, compassion, and togetherness. By taking the focus off of the hustle and bustle and the commercialism of the holidays, we help reduce the stress in our lives, and in turn, help our children learn to enjoy a stress-free, authentically happy holiday season that is full of meaning and memories.