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10 important things to tell children this holiday season

10 important things to tell children this holiday season

It’s so easy to get swept up in the indulgent excesses of the holiday season. We work hard and experience highs and lows all year. We have the chance to reconcile and put things into perspective at its completion.

We find ourselves immersed in our own traditions, while at the same time making new ones with our families and friends and although continuing the customs we are used to is valuable, minor adjustments can be made to not only make them more meaningful, but also to guide children in understanding how we can use the holiday season to become better people.

Here are 10 important things to tell children this holiday season.

1. Let’s understand the different ways people celebrate

The festive season is an exciting time for children. Their understanding of it is simple. They know they will be on holidays from school, they will get presents and they will spend time celebrating with family and friends. Anything beyond that is unimportant to them. They are only aware of their limited experiences. The festive season is an opportunity for us to introduce them to knowledge outside of our own cultural saturation. We can bring to their attention the many ways that people all over the world celebrate the festive season, including multicultural holidays and those from different faiths.

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2. Let’s acknowledge that some don’t or can’t celebrate

As children grow up their scope of awareness is only as wide as what we expose them to. Young children only consider what happens in their own family and friendship circles. Older children will start to understand that there is diversity of experience and opportunity within their own communities, their nation and worldwide. We should use this time to help them think about people that don’t celebrate at the end of the year for whatever reason. They may not want to, it may not be their tradition. Some people can’t afford to or are living in a part of the world that makes it impossible to.

With sensitivity and age appropriate language and ideas, we can start to show children that they are not the center of the universe and although their happiness is our primary concern, for some people, it is not a festive season at all and our children should develop this awareness. There are excellent ways to start a conversation with children about both war and poverty and we shouldn’t shy away from these topics when the opportunity presents itself.

3. Let’s make things

With the necessary sensitive stuff addressed, we can indulge in encouraging children to be creative and productive. The festive season provides endless inspiration to make things. From decorations, presents, cards, table settings, food and desserts, costumes and performances; children can be shown ways to avoid participating in the merchandise overload that floods our world at this time. Not only are there millions of ideas and step by step guides on the internet to try during the holidays, materials are abundant and available.

Children can make things from craft supplies, household items or re-purposed and recycled things they already own. They love being shown how to deconstruct something and make a new thing from it. Children love to dress up and perform and it does wonders for their confidence and self esteem. When children are encouraged to create they not only learn to be thrifty and artistic, they also make memories and that is priceless.

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4. Let’s give stuff away

One of the central aspects of the holiday season is the giving of gifts. Aside from the obligatory presents that we show children to buy for family and friends, this time is a chance to explain to children the true meaning of giving. It is a good time to declutter. This is not only a necessary and useful habit to get children into, it exposes them to the notion of recycling and being generous. We can get them to give away toys and clothes they have outgrown to those less fortunate.

Throughout the year it is a good way to show children how to care for things so that they can be passed on and to educate them about valuing things instead of treating things as disposable. We can also introduce them to charity and making donations. Perhaps they can put aside a little bit of their pocket money or cash gifts to contribute something to a cause they care about like animal welfare or underprivileged or sick children. Something they can relate to.

5. Let’s ask for the right things

Traditionally children are compelled to make lists and think about what they want to receive as gifts. We are certainly bombarded by the promotion of goods marketed directly at children. Children talk about what they wish for among themselves and we perpetuate those desires further to make shopping easier and to give them what they want.

Instead of filling our homes with more objects that provide instant gratification and are soon tossed aside to be replaced by the next fad, why not show children how to appreciate gifts of a less material nature. We can urge them to ask for experiences. How about tickets to a show, membership to a museum or zoo, a gift purchased in their name to an overseas charity, an outing or holiday, an adventure.

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6. Let’s eat well

Let’s face it, we all over indulge a little during the holidays. It’s time to simplify how we partake in feasting to celebrate this time. It’s a great opportunity to be examples to our children about how to make healthy and enjoyable choices. We can all afford to reduce the amount of sugar and salt we consume. We can think about how to access humanely sourced food and we can be aware of how we consume alcohol in front of children. We can also include them in the preparation of food and the cleaning up afterwards, regardless of their age or gender. It should be a time when everyone feels included and contributes.

7. Let’s spend time with loved ones

Family is one of the most important things in life whether they are blood relations or people we have chosen as our circle of kin. For children, feeling as though they belong to a group is paramount. The festive season is a time to put differences aside and promote getting together with the important people in our lives. We can include our children when we visit relatives and reconnect with people we have not seen throughout the year. This time of year is a good time to slow down. We get so busy during the year that we barely spend any quality time with our loved ones. The festive season is an opportunity to regroup; with parents, siblings, cousins, aunties and uncles, grandparents and close friends.

It’s nice to get everyone under one roof for one day, but getting everyone to be in the same place at the same time for a few days can truly center us and is worth a try. These days we can rent holiday houses, organize camping trips and even connect across continents online. Once we have touched base with our foundation and reunited with loved ones, then we can return to our busy lives. We can show our children who the important people in their lives are and why they matter.

8. Let’s be grateful

Being surrounded by loved ones and abundance this holiday season makes us the luckiest people in the world and we should point out to our children that we ought to be grateful. Making them aware of what they have and that it isn’t the situation for everyone helps us to build gratitude and empathy in children. It’s a chance to help them put things into perspective and really understand what matters. It isn’t about the objects we get as presents or all the gratification we get, but rather the love and security we experience.

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9. Let’s reflect on the year that has passed

The end of year festivities allow us to reflect on all that has happened throughout the year, whether it was positive or not. We should talk to children about their achievements and triumphs; the things that made them happy, things they learned or did for the first time. New places they visited and new friends they made. We should reminisce with them about the milestones they have reached and how they have grown and changed from the previous year.

We should also give them the courage and confidence to ponder the moments that made them sad, frightened, unhappy or confused. They need to feel safe to confront the negative experiences in their lives and together talk about what they have learned and gained from them. Reflection teaches children to contemplate their place in the world and their rights, obligations and privileges. It gives them perspective and builds trust and resilience.

10. Let’s look forward to the year ahead

The end of the year is a way for children to comprehend that as things come to an end, we make room for new beginnings. The festive season, above all else is about hope. It forces us to consider what has been and look forward to what is ahead. By learning to set goals and make plans, children discover how to put their minds to a task and determine what they will accomplish. It teaches them self determination, agency, independence and perseverance. It gives them permission and aptitude to take their lives in their own hands and own their destiny.

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Diane Koopman

Writer, Author, Novelist, Self-Publisher

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Published on September 10, 2020

How to Be a Better Parent: 11 Things to Remember

How to Be a Better Parent: 11 Things to Remember

Two of the most challenging jobs in the world are raising a human being and being the best parent possible for them. Raising a child without implementing specific rules is not enough, however. The job has to be done in such a way that when you’re “done,” you’ve already created a loving, responsible, self-sufficient, kind-hearted, thoughtful, empathic, and respectful persona. Hence, it is ideal to lower the bar a little and start learning how to be a better parent.

Don’t get me wrong; mistakes will be made along the way. You won’t be perfect, regardless of how hard you try.

And no matter how great a job you do, your child may have issues beyond your control. Remember, they will be born with a will of their own that may conflict with yours. Nevertheless, carrying out the following tips will provide you with the best chance to create a fantastic human being of whom you can be proud.

1. Listen

I knew a couple who had a daughter. She was smart, sweet, and as cute as a button, but her parents were old school. They believed the adage that a child should be seen and not heard. She might as well have been a doll in a curio cabinet. Unfortunately, this little girl had a lot of exciting ideas and things to say. I knew this because she would share them with me on the occasions that we were alone.

Children are interesting, funny, and curious, and they look upon you — their parent — as a hero. They have a wealth of knowledge and a great perspective on life. Listening to your child is one of the greatest gifts you can offer. They will feel valued and grow up knowing that they matter.

It’s not always easy to listen. Sometimes, children will carry on without saying anything profound. But if they believe you’re listening, they will feel important and provide you with amazing nuggets of information.

Note: Make a real and honest effort when you are listening to your children. Don’t listen while multitasking and muttering, “Hmm, that’s nice, dear!”

Sadly, I’ve seen lots of parents on their phones, their heads buried in Facebook or Instagram feed, while their child tries unsuccessfully to get their attention. In his book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck, M. D., wrote, “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time. True listening, total concentration on the other, is always a manifestation of love.”

2. Provide Unconditional Love

I knew a mother who loved her son so much, but her love came at a high price. When he behaved as she expected him to — getting recognition for being a star athlete or academic achievements — she showered him with love. In truth, she bragged and put up framed newspaper articles of her son’s accomplishments.

That same boy, though, went through a rough patch when he was a senior, becoming unruly and hostile. Down came the framed article, and up came the silent treatment.

Providing unconditional love creates a secure bond and a healthy person. Knowing you have your parent’s love no matter what makes a fantastic anchor for the child. They know they can mess up and still be loved. They know they can come to you with their worst offenses, and while you might get upset, your love will remain intact.

3. Teach by Example

Children watch and listen to you very closely. You may think that they’re not paying attention, that they’re in the other room, playing with their Legos, but they are listening.

If you want to teach your child, lead by example.

For instance, if you want them to eat healthy foods, eat healthy foods. If you don’t want them to pick up bad habits, like smoking, don’t smoke. If you don’t want them to be violent, be peaceful. If you wish to raise a trustworthy child, keep your word.[1]

If you want to teach your child how to communicate, speak kindly and listen with an open heart. Whatever you want your child to learn, be willing to do it yourself. You are the best teacher for the job!

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4. Spend Time Together Often

Life is full of work, errands, get-togethers, appointments, etc. It’s easy to get lost in all the hustle and bustle and not leave enough time for your children. I know busy parents who set their children down on the couch to watch TV or play with an iPad while they’re working.

Occasionally, that isn’t a bad thing. But regularly, it can create a gap between you and your child.

You can avoid being an absentee parent by spending time with your children every day. Talk to them about anything; ask about their day. If you can, allow them to help you with household chores. E.g., cleaning, folding laundry or stacking dishes in the dishwasher.

They’ll feel good when they know you need them, and you can use this as a family bonding opportunity.

5. Follow Through

Follow through creates trust in your child. They will believe that what you say you’re going to do will genuinely be done.

Children are very perceptive. Let me reiterate: they are always watching and listening.

For instance, I was on a walk one afternoon with my granddaughter and her parents. The little girl was asked if she wanted to ride the stroller, and she replied, “No, I want to walk.”

My daughter-in-law responded, “Okay, but if you get tired, I’m not carrying you! Understood?”

After about 15 minutes, my granddaughter complained that her legs hurt. She started whining and complaining. When my daughter-in-law picked her up, she commented, “I thought you said you weren’t going to pick me up?”

My daughter-in-law did not follow through, and her daughter knew it. She was only four years old.

You see, when parents say things and end up not doing them, they become empty threats — words without any back-up.

Following through is critical in raising a responsible adult. You need to be kind, clear, and concise.

The child has to know that you mean business. If you tell them they’re not having a sleepover unless their homework is done, then the homework better be done. If it’s not, there will be no sleepover.

It doesn’t matter if you had plans with your friends or a date with your husband. Just make sure that whatever the consequences are for your kids’ bad behavior, you can back it up with action.

6. Focus on Positive Qualities

There is an old American proverb that says, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease/oil.” It is used to communicate the notion that the most clamorous problems are the ones that will more than likely get noticed.

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If your child is well-behaved and minding their own business, you might be tempted to let them be. On the other hand, if they are acting out and making a raucous, they may get a lot of attention.

This sends the message that the kids have to misbehave before you focus on them. Bad attention, after all, is better than no attention.

Positive attention is paramount. If you only pay attention to your child’s negative behavior while ignoring their positive qualities, you are robbing them the chance of being their best selves.

Simply notice all the things you love about your kids and minimize the criticisms. That’s especially essential when you have children between the ages 0 and 5. Since they are impressionable, whatever you say often will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Here are more ideas on how to think positively despite the circumstance: Turn to the Bright Side: 10 Ways to Encourage Post-Incident Positive Thinking

7. Apologize When Necessary

We all make mistakes. There are some parents, however, who don’t apologize no matter how many mistakes they make with their children. They incorrectly assume that apologizing is a sign of weakness.

Well, nothing could be farther from the truth. As we have learned before,[2]

“Apologizing to your child is a sign of respect for the overall relationship you have with him.”

Making mistakes is human. I guarantee you that your child will not think less of you. If you fail to apologize, you miss out on a teachable moment about the importance of taking responsibility. After all, you want your child to apologize when they do something wrong.

If the kids lie, lash out at another child, or break something of value, you want them to own up to it and apologize for what’s happened. It is during these moments that you teach your child that an apology is the right course of action. If you don’t do the same thing, what exactly are you teaching them?

You may find it difficult to apologize because you feel superior or fear losing your authority. In truth, your child will see you as a human, and they may feel closer to you than ever.

Show your kid that no one is perfect, that you all make mistakes in life. Apologies can correct so many wrongs. Just a few simple words can cure the worst transgressions.

A word for the wise: put your ego aside. Say you’re sorry and move on. If you can do that, you will be building a strong relationship — one based on love and respect — with your children.

8. Allow Kids to Be Who They Want to Be

My maternal grandfather, Pánfilo D. Camacho, was a lawyer and author in Havana, Cuba.[3] He expected my uncle, Jorge Camacho, to follow in his footsteps.[4] My uncle, however, wanted to be an artist and fulfill his dreams in Paris, France.

At the time, my grandfather did not see art as a “real job” or something that could provide security. Despite knowing how his father felt, my uncle met with him and explained that his goals. Thankfully, my grandfather thought about it and gave his only son his blessing. He also helped with all the necessary expenses to get my uncle to Paris and study with the best of the best.

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My uncle became a very celebrated artist in France. Jorge Camacho’s amazing surrealist art is still sold today.

This scenario could have played out quite differently if my grandfather dug in his heels. He could have forced my uncle to become a lawyer just like him.

Fortunately, he realized that allowing my uncle to be who he wanted to be was the right thing to do. And it was. My uncle was grateful and made a name for himself. My grandfather was proud, and their relationship grew strong.

Allow your child to be who they want to be, not who you think they should be. After all, it is their life — their journey. You’re just there to watch and provide guidance whenever necessary.

9. Grow Along With Your Children

Children grow and evolve, just like us. It’s important to grow with them and adjust the way you discipline and talk to them.

For example, if your 4-year-old misbehaves by bending the truth or whining, you may ignore their antics and stay calm with regards to the lying. This is common for this age group.

If you’re dealing with an 8-year-old, your child understands the difference between right and wrong and looks to you for guidance.[5]

Meanwhile, teens need to be addressed in another way. That is a difficult and challenging age group — one that deserves great care and attention. You cannot talk to your 16-year-old as if they were still 9!

10. Validate Their Feelings

While growing up, lots of things that generate a multitude of feelings happen. As a parent, you want to take the time to validate your child’s feelings. Don’t be dismissive and act like their feelings are not important.

The other day, my 8.5-year-old granddaughter came over. I could see that she’d been crying. When I asked if she was, she looked at me with sad eyes. My granddaughter informed me that she missed her best friend whom she hadn’t seen for almost six months since the community quarantine began.

I didn’t say, “Don’t worry about it; you’ll see her someday! Now, run along.” Nope. I looked her in the eye and said, “It must be so tough not to see your best friend for such a long time.”

My granddaughter’s eyes welled up with tears as she nodded. I validated her feelings, and she felt heard. As it turned out, her little friend was allowed to visit the next day. She came over to my house again, but this time, she exclaimed, “This is the happiest day of my quarantine!”

If you do not validate your child’s feelings, they will think that their feelings are unimportant and learn not to share them at all. You don’t want that, of course.

You want to have your finger on the pulse of their emotions. You need to make sure they come to you in the future when heavier things come down the pipe.

Here’s an example of WHAT NOT TO SAY: Your teenage daughter comes to you and utters, “Richard broke up with me. I’m devastated!” Then, you reply, “Don’t worry about it! There is plenty of fish in the sea — probably even better ones. You’re too young anyway.” You might as well have stabbed her in the heart.

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Instead of doing that, try saying, “That is heartbreaking. You must really be hurting. If you want to talk, I’m here to listen.”

Listen and communicate with compassion.

11. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Whenever I used to pick up my 16-year-old grandson from school, I’d make the mistake of asking, “How was school today?”

You can probably guess the answer. It was always the same, “Good!” Just one lonely word.

So, I decided on another approach: asking open-ended questions. The next time I picked him up, I asked, “So, what was the best part of your day?”

It was impossible for my grandson to just reply, “Good.” He was forced to stop and think about some incidents that already happened. It doesn’t matter what they tell you; the key is to get them to talk. That’s how you learn what’s going on in their lives.

This not only works with children but also with adults. For example, when you ask someone, “Do you like your job?”, they may answer yes or no. But if you say, “What do you like or dislike about your job?”, you’ll get a lot of information.

Open-ended questions are the key to getting more information than you’ll know what to do with!

Final Thoughts

Being a good and responsible parent can be one of the most rewarding tasks in the world. It is not effortless, however. It takes a lot of work and patience.

Implementing the above-mentioned 11 suggestions won’t guarantee a perfect family, but you will have a solid base to build and grow upon.

Your child is a reflection of you. What do you wish them to reflect?

Learn how to be a better parent and help produce a legacy of outstanding humans.

More on Improving Your Parenting Skills

Featured photo credit: Gabe Pierce via unsplash.com

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