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Dr. Kirk: Engaging the Whole Family for the Holidays

by Michael E. Kirk, PhD
Dr. Kirk is a local clinical psychologist, father and grandfather, who specializes in working with families, adolescents, and children.

Surprisingly, the holidays are upon us once again. What is it that your family does throughout the holidays that will continue as a legacy for your children? What plans will you be making and who will be involved with making these plans? Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve and Day each offer every family an opportunity for joyous get-togethers, relaxing moments with significant others, surprises, opportunities for creative and imaginative gift-giving, a time to consider the less fortunate, and time for showing love to your children. Although the holidays are exciting for all, they can sometimes be fraught with harried times, decorating, moments of arriving family and friends, and the adventure of creating delicious food for everyone.

With all of that in mind, there are some things we, as parents, can make sure we do that will make all of the holiday experiences even better for our children.

First, be available for your children. Be available to allow them to just talk with you; be the better listener that everyone needs. Be sure to sit down and really look at and listen to your child, perhaps even repeat back, more or less, what you heard her or him say. That process allows your child to feel heard and thus feel significant to you. That, in and of itself, is a gift. Also, find some time in each week throughout the holidays to participate in an activity with your child one-on-one, if possible. This could be an activity directed by the child, one of her favorite things to do or listen to, which you wildly accept with no judgment, or something you both have repeatedly done together and always had a great time. Your child feels comforted by your personal attention, and that will always make the holidays better for him or her. Perhaps even talk with your children about your childhood holiday experiences and how they were important for you, and they may share with you what experiences they have had as well as what they find important and significant for them.

You can always use the holidays to continue with family traditions. These activities are as important as your heartbeat. These traditions represent family and the longevity of enduring family experiences. Taking everyone to the Melodrama for the Holiday shows, out viewing holiday lights in the neighborhoods, or participating in available services for those who are less fortunate can contribute to a sense of family and of giving.

Perhaps use the holidays this year to begin new traditions, to make time for ideas you have had before but felt you did not have the time to initiate them.  Assisting the children in making their own gifts for family members, grandparents and others, by encouraging creativity and the actual idea of contributing and sharing may be a good way to start. The sense of well-being gained by making something for a parent, relative, or a sibling is extremely rewarding. These days there are plenty of on-line places to get ideas for holidays gifts made at home, from using wine corks or candle jars to a collage of family pictures for the grandparents. Have the children be more involved in any usual holiday preparations from getting out the decorations to having them participate in deciding what to put out, and where, this year. Having the children more involved with the meal preparation and cooking process is a must. Everyone needs to learn how to cook, and what better time than this? Be flexible as a parent, watch out for any strong and negative reaction such as: 'No, we don’t put the lights up like that!' and allow the children to decorate their way. Remember, the children are a part of the family. They will likely want to continue with traditions you have started, and perhaps create some of their own. Be open as a parent for that to occur. Your expressed confidence and approval will, again, go a long way in allowing them to feel accepted and loved throughout the holiday season.

Parenting is a challenging process, yet it is always an opportunity for you to stretch yourself.   This means that during the holidays you have the opportunity to look beyond what you are currently doing as a parent and think about different approaches you can utilize with your children, including listening to your child in a positive and supportive manner and engaging with him or her in family activities, particularly throughout the holidays, thus making the holidays merry and joyful for all.

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Tags: Parenting

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