December can be a stressful month for kids and families. All that Joy to the World takes its toll on schedules and wallets, not to mention trying not to pout and not to cry! Adding new things to an already full To Do List overwhelms even the best organized. Routines are disrupted for exciting holiday adventures, from parties to Fantasy of Light shows after dark. Holiday fun, while positive, ratchets up moods and plays havoc with everyday calm (not that living with children is ever all that calm). Add in visits with unfamiliar relatives, juggling the holiday gimme’s, kids trying to understand if they are really naughty or nice, and parents trying to live up to the challenge of an ideal family holiday. December = Stress!
Not to worry – awareness is 90% of beating stress. Stop, listen, pause. Be tuned in to the scales tipping over the redline. Every pause creates space to breathe and for your children to breathe. More importantly, every pause is time for your child to get reoriented to sanity. 5 minutes of slowing down is 5 minutes for your child to connect to you, to feeling seen and loved. You are your child’s lifeline to peace, joy, calm and sanity. Surprisingly, your child may also be your lifeline in a stressed out, over-doing world of grown-up commitments and obligations. It’s the parent version of “stop and smell the roses”; stop and see the world through your child’s eyes.
Children live in the moments. So, even in this season of extravagant pageantry and grand magic, try not to lose focus on the little things: the patient hug after the tears from sitting in Santa’s lap, not rushing to clean up the messy cookie flour on the floor, or listening to your child sing her favorite Christmas carol for the millionth time. Efficiency can wait 5 minutes. Five minutes of daily joy can melt the stress of the busiest month of the year.
Here are 12 doses of daily joy to keep your December merry and bright. Each of these mini-activities is intended to give your child short blasts of fun and connection to ride through the holiday crazies.
1. Christmas count down. Advent calendars are great but so is your personal family countdown. Write out the numbers 1 to 25 on cardstock table tents (i.e. cardstock folded in half with numbers printed on bottom half) for the kitchen counter, the dinner table, or another everyday spot and let your child change the number daily. Or, write it on the bathroom mirror or the patio door with window markers.
2. Start the day with a holiday song either a capella or blasting from your iPhone. After the first few days, a new ritual will take root and before you know it, your child will be making requests at bedtime for the next morning.
3. “All I want for Christmas” for breakfast. Make a game of everyone saying what they want for Christmas at the breakfast table, starting with my two front teeth. You can even hide pictures of holiday catalog items under plates. Make it silly to defuse holiday gimme’s – the fancy sports car, the pony, and 2nd mommy to do all the things Mommy #1 hates to do.
4. Magic jingle bells. Everybody in the family gets a holiday bell and when they ring it, everyone else has to stop-n-freeze. Or, jump up & down, make heart-hands, or pretend they are a Christmas tree – your choice!
5. Holiday dress up for dinner. Pack a box of holiday props: antlers, light up noses, Santa hats, mittens (try eating with those), Frosty’s hat, elf slippers, and more. Make one night a week Holiday dress up night.
6. Make 2 minute videos for friends and relatives far away sending holiday greetings. Let your child choose different locations if you like.
7. Retell favorite holiday stories with your child as one of the story characters. E.G. as one of the flying reindeer, helping at the North Pole, or at the first Christmas.
8. Wrap up surprise. Set up an inexpensive wrapping station of recycled paper, paper bags, or even pillow cases. Set a time every day, or once a week, when the whole family is home. Ring an alarm (phone alarm or oven timer) for everyone to find surprise “presents” to “wrap” for everyone else from the stuff already in your house.
9. Snuggle chair. Add a holiday scarf or throw blanket on a comfy chair. Incorporate 5 minutes of snuggle time after school, before dinner, or at that time of day when everyone begins to fall apart.
10. Holiday noses. Pine needles, cinnamon, peppermint, orange…create scent associations for the season using essential oils or cooking extracts. Dab everyone’s wrist or hand and call yourself the Peppermint Family for the day.
11. Christmas Past. Bring out the photos from Christmases past to talk about with your child. Celebrate how much your child has grown and all your favorite memories. Be ready for questions and prompts to help your child understand the connection between past and present, things that change and things that don’t, and all the love that is part of your family.
12. Reindeer kisses. Seal your love every day with reindeer kisses of your choosing – the kind you give with long reindeer eyelashes or the wet slobbery kind.
The what of the December mini-activities doesn’t matter; it’s the how. How you remember to slow down, how you pause the busyness, how you laugh through the craziness, and how you create safe, peaceful, calm, happy memories.