Christmas was my favourite time of year when I was younger, but as I got older I found myself turning into Ebenezer Scrooge. Each year, I seemed to get more cynical about the all of the excess that surrounded the holiday season. I would see all the packaging and glittery paper in the shops and worry about the damage it was causing the environment. I would watch my dad stuffing the 5th turkey sandwich in his mouth and worry about the damage it was causing his health, and I would watch my children rip open countless gifts with barely a ‘thank you’ before they moved onto the next. It was all getting too much and last year we decided as a family to strip it all back to basics – love, gratitude, connection.
I want my children to be grateful. I want them to show empathy for others, and above all I want them to be kind. This just didn’t seem to be congruent with the kind of lifestyle we were leading.
I don’t think I’m alone. I think if you ask most parents what traits they would like their children to develop, gratitude, kindness and empathy would be near the top of the list. But how can we help them to develop these traits? Once they’ve stepped out the front door, we can’t control what messages they’re bombarded with. So we just need to give them tools they need to navigate their world and make the best possible choices.
If we want our children to be kind, generous and have empathy for those around them, we need to lead by example. And Christmas is the perfect place to start.
Here are 3 tips to help you and your family survive and thrive during the silly season.
- Switch off: Your full attention is the kindest gift you can give. It’s also the rarest. How often do you hold conversation with your family with one eye on your phone? It’s not kind and it’s sending a clear message to the person you’re with that they are not worthy of your full attention. Attention is a simple way to show love and one of the kindness things you can give this Christmas.
- Reverse the advent: Advent calendars are a wonderful way for children to countdown the days until Christmas but they, too, are usually all about receiving something… and they seem to be getting more elaborate each year. A great way to encourage children to think about others is to create a Reverse Advent Calendar. Fill a basket with different food or toiletry items each day for 24 days, then donate the items to your local food bank.
- Focus on gratitude over gifts: It’s hard to escape that blast of dopamine and resulting feeling of euphoria when we get something new, especially for children. But that feel-good feeling has the potential to be even stronger and last a whole lot longer if we focus on gratitude rather than the gifts we receive. There is so much to be grateful for in every day life, not just at Christmas. Family, health, shelter, food on the table, air in our lungs… the list goes on. When at the dinner table on Christmas Day, go round the table and ask everyone to list three things that they are grateful for in that moment. This is a great way of helping both children and adults notice that they already have the most important things in life. I also guarantee that the responses will be the things that everyone remembers most about that day.
Ultimately, Christmas is all about kindness – kindness to our friends, our family and to any other human being we have the ability to reach through our actions. If we can all live by this premise and display that to our children then the season can once again be the most magical time of the year, for everyone.