The Parent Classroom Newsletter > Are The Holidays Stressing You Out?
Are The Holidays Stressing You Out?

Dec 2, 2009

There are lots of reasons why people experience stress and pressure around the December holidays. But the one thing that seems universal is a yearning for a simpler, less commercial, more soul-satisfying celebration. This wish seems to cross religions and cultures. It reflects a deep need on all our parts to end the year with a festival of renewal that rekindles our faith, brings us closer to the people we care about, and brings some light into the dark days of winter.

A while ago, I read the book Unplug the Christmas Machine, By Jo Robinson and Jean Stahell. In this book the authors state that there are only 4 things that children really want for Christmas or Hanukkah:

1. A relaxed and loving time with family.
2. Realistic expectations about gifts.
3. An evenly paced holiday season.
4. Reliable family rituals.

It seems that if we could concentrate on providing those 4 things, both children and adults could experience a more deeply satisfying holiday period. Here are some ways to accomplish that:

1. For a relaxed and loving time with family:
* Reminisce with your family members about past holidays. Make a list of the things that worked and brought you joy, and the things that drained your energy and caused you stress. Brainstorm to solve the problems that don?t work, and create more time for the activities that nurture you.

* Create a balance between getting things done and spending time with your children. This may mean foregoing a project ?or including your children in the project.

* Ask your children how they wish to contribute during this season and incorporate some of their ideas into the plans. Have them assume some responsibility for things like gift wrapping and making decorations.

2. For realistic expectations about gifts"
* Be explicit about your gift giving rituals. For example, ?we will open presents on the first day of Hanukkah and the last day; or ?Santa Claus will bring you one big gift and one small gift. If your budget this year is limited, be explicit about the number and kinds of gifts your children will receive.

* Young children mostly like to open presents, so small, inexpensive gifts can be as meaningful as a larger, more expensive gift.

* Don?t feel trapped into purchasing gifts that are beyond your budget or feel too commercial and junky to you. It is good for children to know your boundaries and values. They can choose things that cost less, and can be helped to understand that the media wants us to buy that toy, even though it breaks easily?but we are going to think of something else.

* Ask a grandparent or relative to consider spending a day with a child as a gift.

* If your child receives a huge number of gifts from relatives, decide on a number that he or she should open, and store the rest. These can make great gifts for a rainy day when they are restless and bored.

* Start a giving ritual in your family. On one night of Hanukkah, have children wrap gifts to bring to a homeless shelter; or put toys under the tree for Santa to bring to children in need.

3. For an evenly paced holiday season:

* Stretch out the celebration by allowing children to participate in the various stages: getting the tree, polishing the menorah, baking the cookies, listening to music, reading the books, wrapping the gifts?all can be planned as special events that help children with the waiting, ritualize the preparations, and generate a period, rather than one day of joy.

* Advent traditions can be particularly wonderful for dealing with the countdown until Christmas: buying an advent calendar or making your own countdown calendar which can include pictures of the planned activities such as getting the tree or baking the cookies.

* Hanukkah can be divided into special nights, each having a different focus: big gift night, small gift night, reading night, Mom night, Dad night, gift of self night (each person agrees to do something for others), gifts to others who are in need night, Sweet night (each person gets their favorite dessert)

4. For reliable family rituals:
* Rituals are hugely important as they create memories, communicate values and provide comfort and security.?

* Think back to the rituals of your own childhood. What are the elements in your childhood celebration that you would like to transfer to your current celebration? Think about creating new rituals that speak to your family in the present, rather than mirroring the past.

* If it was the light, or the music, or the food, or the company how can you make this be a fuller part of your family's celebration? Focus on the things that you most want and that nurture you, rather than trying to do it all.

Jill Shugart, M.A., MFT - 910 Tulare Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707 - 510-528-0309 -
Ca. Lic.#MFT32528



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