We’re entering a “merry” season of thankfulness, feasting, joy and laughter, faith and worship, giving, hopefulness, and family … lots and lots of family. Who doesn’t look forward to the holidays? Although there is some stress around shopping (UGH!) and figuring out family schedules, I love spending time with my husband and our blended family. For me, there is nothing better than the unconditional love celebrated in our home, but it wasn’t always like this for me.
Sure, as a child, I loved giving and getting presents (still do), the decorations and parties, the special school and church programs. But all that feasting and family was a major source of anxiety and fear for me. I worried about whether my biological father would come home drunk, what family arguments would take place, and what might be said about me that would be embarrassing or scary. I also wondered which uncle might give a few too many sloppy kisses or inappropriate touches. And, I waited for the inevitable moment when my mom would say, within earshot of others, “Debra Ann you put that (pie, cookie, fudge, second helping) back right now! You’re supposed to be on a diet”! That pattern of holiday stress followed me into adulthood to the point that I used to get physically sick, just about every holiday. That lasted through my 40’s … My programmed response to TOXIC STRESS.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, challenge, and adversity. Even the most traumatized people can learn to generate the resilience needed to travel productively, successfully, and happily through life when they have resources. When I learned the skills to listen to my body and used tools to decrease my body’s response to stress, I shifted from REACTING to toxic holiday patterns to enjoying true holiday happiness.
There are certainly many resilience-builders we can work on throughout the year (see Blog #9, Bounce This Around….). But there are specific things we can do during the holidays to help lessen everyone’s anxiety and help make sure “all is calm, all is bright.”
Don’t over schedule. Pick and choose your activities. Tired kids (and parents) react easily and test each other’s patience. Keep your normal schedule whenever possible.
Let go of perfection. Let your kids decorate the tree, set the table, wrap presents, decorate cookies, etc. without correcting their “mistakes.” Every correction, no matter how small, tells them they failed again.
Let kids have choices. Picking out gifts to give, or something to include in Thanksgiving dinner, or what to wear to a party or program builds their confidence and helps them feel part of holiday traditions.
Make time for movement. Research shows that exercise strengthens the part of our brains that helps calm us down in times of stress. Take a walk, play a game, or dance to some holiday tunes.
Talk about your own disappointments and sadness, and model for them that these feelings are normal, but can be short-lived and dealt with.
Create a space of gratitude in your home. The holidays provide a perfect opportunity to talk about blessings, thoughtfulness, and hopefulness. Positivity has been found to be one of the key characteristics of resilient people.
So, let the turkeys roast, the cookies bake, the hoards of relatives come and (thankfully) go, the money disappear, and resolutions abound. Holidays are really about creating memories and sharing love. Kids may not remember all of the happenings of a holiday season, but they will remember how they made them feel.
Deb Timmerman is a Registered Nurse and Co-creator of Simply Successful Kids. Click here for her bio.