Let’s be honest: December is the most stressful time of the year. Sure, it’s a lot of fun, with all the lights along the dark streets, the moon shining through the trees. It’s a month with the most holidays, a time to meet family, enjoy the best food, give lots of presents. But it’s a lot of stimuli. How can you help your children to handle all of that?
Nothing to give
One: admittedly, it’s a bit of a boring tip: don’t give them too many gifts. An interviewee once gave me her grandma’s golden tip: give them ‘something they want, something they need, something to eat and something to read.’ That’s helpful. At my eldest son’s school they are fundraising for charity, especially this month. We can teach our kids that it’s not just about getting things, but also about giving. In December many foodbanks collect extra snacks, for children in less fortunate families.
Off to bed early
Two, even duller: send them off to bed early. In our family, a story goes around about a girl who was punished: for a week, she had to go to bed at seven. After a week, she told her parents that the lessons in school had gotten much easier. When it’s dark outside, we all should go to bed earlier. The darkness makes your body produce more sleep hormones.
Three: give them real attention. You know, attention without a smartphone. This tip is just as beneficial for you as it is for your kids. Last weekend, I spent a whole Saturday helping to do handicrafts for surprises (visiting the DIY shop, sawing, sanding, cutting, painting). Bake Christmas cookies with them, or decorate the tree together. It’s difficult to give them attention when you’re busy, but that’s exactly why it’s so good (for you).
Four: think of rituals you can introduce in the family, meaningful moments. Visiting the church together can be one. Taking a walk through the woods, making a fire in the open air. Making a list of things you are grateful for. Tell stories, light candles. Make sure it’s not all about consuming, but about meaning. At school, the advent period starts: in the morning, the lights are off and there are candles in class, in the hallroom, someone’s playing the violin. It’s about the atmosphere, not about the stuff.
Five: meditate everywhere. Even in the New York subway people meditate – especially at the most busy times it can be helpful. Every time my children get really upset about reasons that don’t make sense, and I don’t know what to do, I yell: ‘Breathe! Breathe in, breathe out.’ Perhaps, I’m actually yelling at myself. Perhaps they don’t learn from it at all, my two eldest children often make sarcastic jokes when I say ‘feel the feeling inside your belly’. But who knows, they just might remember those moments when they’re older.
Text: Pauline Bijster - Photo: Mike Arney