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How to Empower Your Holidays

6 Essential Strategies for Families

We’ve been working at home, learning at home, and staying safer at home since March, and I’m happy to report, everyone in my family is
physically healthy and safe. My kids have started to ask questions about the holiday season and how we will make it special under these extraordinary circumstances. Do you have any strategies?

First, happy holidays! They come around every year, but this year will be like no other. There’s a proverb that says, “Joy fills the hearts of those planning peace.” You’ve laid a good foundation for planning peace already, and I’ve no doubt that with some creativity and working together as a family, a joy-filled holiday is ahead. I hope the following ideas will help. 

Start with a Family Meeting – and Get Creative!

When done right, family meetings can be positive and productive for children and parents alike. Especially these days, your children will love knowing there is a predictable time dedicated to family conversation, and that everyone – young and old – will be heard and seen. If you haven’t already set this routine, begin now to gather the family at a specific time every week for sharing, caring, and collective problem-solving. 

Serve up the hot chocolate and think together! I suggest pulling out a dry-erase board or a big piece of poster-paper and markers. One person is the scribe. Family members call out their favorite holiday events, from eating pumpkin pie or opening gifts to playing football on the lawn, to attending that special church service or lighting the Menorah, each holiday happening is captured on the board. Then, get creative to see how many of these you can still make happen while respecting the needs of your family and those who will be involved. For instance, football on the lawn may not be safe, but a Just Dance competition might be a great alternative in two different homes for working off Thanksgiving dinner!

Techno-hacks to Keep the Traditions

Rituals and traditions anchor our kids and make great memories once they’re grown. Let’s be thankful that technology, when used thoughtfully, is at a level to help us preserve traditions in new ways. I conducted an informal survey of my own friends and family. Here are some ideas they came up with to bring us together, even when we’re apart: 

• Plan a time and day to watch the family favorite holiday movie together. Use tech like Netflix Party or Discord that allows you to watch the show and talk about it, too, apart but together.

• Send cards or gifts to family and friends with an invitation to open them over Zoom. Spread these events out over a few days, so that each sender gets a sweet virtual visit and gift-opening time of their own.

• Have a bake-off! Agree on a family recipe that the cousins look forward to every year and cook it up in two separate kitchens over Zoom or FaceTime. Swap holiday stories while you’re cooking and ensure that the number one ingredient is laughter! 

• Can’t send a favorite casserole in the mail to your grown kids? Send the recipe instead. Then put them on the phone or tablet and enjoy it together. You could make and share your whole Thanksgiving meal this way. 

• Do you have a favorite Christmas story or holiday book? Arrange a special bedtime reading for your children with a relative who can’t be with them. Light candles, wrap the children up in a blanket, and settle in for cozy holiday family time online. 

Enjoy Outdoors, Even If It’s Chilly!

Spending time moving and playing in the fresh air is good for your whole family’s heart and mind. Outdoor activity can help battle depression or anxiety any time of the year and especially during the holiday season. Get ahead of it! This might be the year to go on that walking tour of the murals in Jackson Ward or historic homes in the Fan. Or tour your own neighborhood and check out the decor of the season. The gardens of Lewis Ginter are particularly beautiful. Or consider visiting the Metro Richmond Zoo, open year-round. As you walk, you might share your visit virtually with someone who needs a lift.

Develop a Servant’s Heart

From Angel Tree to feeding the homeless, there is always an opportunity to serve. Our children learn compassion and empathy best through experiencing it and these days, there is more need than ever. Make giving real to them by asking everyone in the family to donate some chore money toward a blanket, dishes, or towels for people who are living in a shelter. Let them choose items to donate for food or book drives. Donate a used coat to keep someone warm, or make cards for the elderly in assisted living. Take your children with you to deliver items safely through your car window, or leave a meal on your neighbor’s porch and greet them joyfully from the steps.

Keep Healthy Boundaries 

Children can become anxious while planning new or exciting events, no matter how fun they will be. Communicate clearly when and where your holiday events are planned. Mark them on a calendar in the kitchen or family room. Stick to a regular bedtime routine as much as possible to ensure a good nine to ten hours of sleep at night. Turn off all technology
an hour before bedtime. Model it yourself and let your kids hold you accountable. This will go a long way toward creating a calmer household so you and your children will have the resilience to handle the inevitable bumps in the road together. 

Teach Respect and Empathy

However you celebrate the holidays, it is a precious time to give and receive love. This season can be a unique one to anchor your children in the security of your family’s values and your personal reason for the season. This year, more than ever, they’ll have the additional responsibility to ask first about others’ comfort levels before their own, so everyone feels heard and safe. With careful planning and lots of love, you and your family can help ensure that no one will feel alone or isolated. Your holidays will be happy, and more importantly, your children will learn how to show love for others in a way that will last long past this unprecedented holiday season. 

Susan Townsend Holt
Susan Townsend Holt, M.Ed, is a board-certified family life coach, parent educator with Everyday Parenting Solutions, and director of family ministry for Community West Church. She specializes in social/emotional skills for calmer and healthier families and classrooms. She is blessed with her husband of thirty-seven years and two adult daughters.
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