Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again!
Whether you prefer Bing Crosby or Michael Buble's It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, it seems Mom and Dad's ability to manage holiday emotions has been a challenge since it was culturally the norm for Ben to not get that doll he wanted or for Janice to miss out on the boots and gun!
We know that a child's gender doesn't dictate the gift, but we still struggle with our child's emotions surrounding the holidays. As an educator, I observed parents look forward to and plan for winter, spring and summer breaks, but was often bemused by the how much more relief they would express when the two-week Christmas holiday was finally over compared to the end of the summer or spring breaks.
What's different? I'm sure there are many differences, but a child's emotional investment in Christmas -- when the kiddo is just learning how to understand and manage their own emotions -- creates, let's say, dynamic family relations packed into a narrow time window. Add travel or guests, shake, and voila! It's no wonder Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again!
Peace-filled holidays are not happenstance
Wouldn't it be nice if we were a bit sad to see the end of the holiday season rather than relieved the kiddos are headed back to school?
Peace-filled holidays are not happenstance, but created in intentional use of our emotional intelligence skills -- motivation, self-awareness and self-control.
If you need it, there are many excellent resources to help with teaching children and teens the emotional intelligence skills essential to becoming healthy adults. Talk to your pediatrician or family doctor, read a few good books, discuss emotional intelligence with your parent-friends, and follow a few solid sites online.
In the meantime, what about this holiday season?
Three emotional intelligence hacks for the holidays
Here are three holiday hacks to help you keep your sanity, as well as help the kiddos learn how to navigate the heightened nature of the holidays. Peace-filled holidays are possible.
1. Focus on the values at the core of your celebrations
Talking about why we celebrate a holiday reveals our values. What is important to you about the holiday -- what is important to your children? They may look at you like, "duh, it's the gifts," but ask them to remember and share their special moments and favorite activities. Or share pictures from prior holidays over a cup of cocoa and you will hear stories about what is most important to them -- their values. And do something which magnifies those values! It doesn't have to be a big event or even expensive -- something simple to affirm your family's core values has a way of becoming a tradition.
When our daughters were quite little -- before kindergarten -- we put up our first Nativity as a way to keep their eyes drawn to what we value most about Christmas.
And that first Nativity brought quite a surprise when we walked into the living room after they were in bed to find all of the girls' little plastic animals and beanie babies added to the birth of Christ! Even as toddlers they understood it was important for everyone to worship the Christ -- they did not add their toys to the tree, but to the Nativity!
Thus a family tradition was born -- enhanced by the kiddos -- from values at the core of our celebration. Adding extra guests to the Nativity is now our norm.
2. Talk about feelings
There are always big feelings around the holidays, but we tend to ignore the ones like disappointment, grief, or anger during the season since everything is supposed to be magical every-day. But magical every-day is a heavy load for a child or teen to carry.
Helping children -- and the grown-ups, too! -- to talk about their feelings while listening and affirming their experience will go a long way in creating a calmer season for everyone. I often made the mistake of thinking I needed to fix the circumstances whenever my daughters would share difficult feelings with me -- resist if you are prone to the same temptation.
Listening and affirming reassures a child -- anyone, really -- that the emotion is not only normal, but that you believe she can be handled the big feelings appropriately.
As I've mentioned before, I really admire my daughter and son-in-law's parenting skills -- their soothing habits of attentively listening to Little Guy and responding in ways which are helping him to develop a strong sense of self-awareness are wonderful to watch. Little Guy is currently ahead of the development curve on expressing frustration -- aka early tantrums -- and I am impressed by how his parents help him with his Big Emotions. First, "big emotions" was not part of our parenting vocabulary so observing their use of baby-friendly words to introduce emotional intelligence skills makes it look so easy. I know it's not -- helping Little Guy through his tantrums is exhausting and time consuming. But I am so proud of Little Guy's parents' first steps towards helping him build a solid emotional toolbox.
Given that the extended-family-togetherness season is upon us, big emotions are bound to happen. Taking the time to talk and to listen affirmingly to the kiddos will help relieve their pressure to experience every day of the season as magical.
3. Shepherding finite resources aka Setting Boundaries
Everyone is gifted with three finite resources -- time, money, emotional energy -- and how we choose to use these resources is especially important during the holidays. Setting boundaries -- the intentional use of our finite resources - becomes easier when we focus on our values and talk about feelings.
Parents live in an in-between space where the three finite resources are split in many, many directions. Time is split between children and family, work, community. Money must at least make the ends meet each month all the while parents feel the pressure to plan for their child's future education as well as their own retirement. Emotional energy -- that place where we are alive in heart, mind and soul -- is divided between our passions and our duties.
The holiday season has a way of magnifying the finite nature of these resources and children are susceptible to increased levels of anxiety when the family over-extends their finite resources -- over commit to activities, over spend the budget, over subscribe to what society thinks is important in the season.
Talk about and set clear boundaries for how you and your family will use the finite resources you have been given.
Less is more
It is counter-intuitive, but less is more. More activities, more stuff -- it's just more -- can blind us from seeing or experiencing the important parts of our celebrations. The first year we were married I remember we were looking for a tree and I was particularly unpleasant with the Boss during the process -- we didn't have enough money, we didn't have any ornaments, we didn't... you name it, according to me, we did not have it -- who turned to me at one point and said, "You are killing the joy, sweetie."
He was right. And I am grateful he called me out on my attitude in such a gracious way.
I remember looking at the tree later that night admiring the lights and the little red bows we had tied on the tree. And surprised at the profound joy I was experiencing -- this was our tree and it was beautiful. We did not need more of anything. We had enough.
Look for the less is more principle this holiday season and wait to be surprised by amazing moments of joy.
Less is more does have a way of surprising us with joy and peace. This post is a bit longer than anticipated and I thank you for sticking with it to the end! Hopefully, you will find focusing on your core values, talking about feelings and shepherding your finite resources a help in creating a holiday season of peace with your children. And I pray you are a bit sad when they head back to school because you enjoyed being with them so much!
With much prayer & love,