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Can You Surrender During the Holidays?

Posted on Nov 13, 2013 by

Portrait of happy mother and baby and cookie christmas tree

Holiday pressures seem to get worse every year.  I saw the images of perfect trees, perfect meals, perfect gifts, perfect parties, and perfect families dancing across the television during the week of Halloween this year.   The bar is higher than ever, but we know we can create the best and most perfect holiday ever for our loved ones if we get started now, right?  There’s just one little problem…

The Problem

Children aren’t really on board with our agendas.  That’s true every day of the year, but during the days leading up to the Holidays, it reaches critical mass.  We have made lists of our To Do lists and do not have a moment to waste on slow shoe tying, picky eaters, or a melt down before getting into the car.  But that’s not the problem.  When we take a breath and find a moment to see, the answers we need are standing in front of us.  Needing their noses wiped.  child drawing

The nature of children tests our patience.   The tests that children give us are actually opportunities to appreciate the moment in front of us and make the best use of it.  Our children challenge us to slow down, and that restores our calm.   Let go of our will and our need to control every second of the  day.

Gifts Without Ribbons

Navigating through the Holidays takes patience, grace, and clarity.  Clarity about what matters the most.  Give yourself permission to look away from the Holiday  distractions and find those life lessons we say we want to give our children.  They are already within you.

This is where we come in.  Self-care.

Time and Routine

  • Stick to your child’s regular schedule as closely as you can.  Explain unavoidable changes in advance.
  • Bedtime routines and regular sleep should be kept as sacred as possible.
  • Leave a party early if your child is tired.
  • Model how to handle stress.  Walk away. Breathe.  Count.  Re-set.

Gratitude and Empathy

Young children have more of an empathetic nature than most give them credit for.  If we listen well, we hear children connect with the feelings of animals and babies. Children even attribute feelings to inanimate objects like the leaves in the fall as they turn color and drop to the ground.  Young children often happily share and appreciate their surroundings with others when given the time and opportunity.

That is where we come in.  When we  are kind and gracious, that is what our children learn.

  • Shine a spotlight of appreciation on your child when they do something kind.
  • Show your grateful heart to them every morning.
  • Do something for others, and sometimes talk about it.
  • Think out loud about what would make someone else happy or how to thank them.
  • Always listen to their ideas about caring, and help make them happen.

During the Holiday season, it is easy to see how children get into the “receiving” mode more than the “giving” one.  Everywhere they turn there are people asking them what they want from Santa Claus or for Hanukkah, and the toy commercials and store displays are not helping!!   While no one wants to take the Joy of Receiving away from a young child, don’t forget that children are very happy to learn about the Joy of Giving as well.

Children learn best through concrete experiences, and I have a couple of suggestions.

  1. My absolute favorite book about the Joy of Giving is called The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau.  Read it several times to get all of the “delicious juices” of color, humor and kindness that are served on every page.  Five and six year old children really respond to this story.  Quiltmakers Gift (3)
  2. Younger children can plant and care for a sunflower seed that represents something they love about their lives.  They can keep their gratitude alive by tending Seeds of Gratitude with their daily love, and a little light and water.
  3. An idea for the whole family that I love, and that young children really enjoy, is making a Gratitude Tree.  Gather real twigs or small branches to display in a big vase or pot.  Every day a week or more leading up to Thanksgiving, each family member writes a thankful word or phrase on a a silk leaf.  Whether it’s something little or big, silly or serious, the tree becomes full of family gratitude, and it takes the pressure off of thinking of just one thing to be thankful for at the Thanksgiving table.  The Gratitude Tree gives many opportunities to model and practice gratitude for everyone, and it is fun to watch the tree become more beautiful every day.


In hindsight, we know that excellent manners and behavior are not going to magically appear on Thanksgiving Day at your in-laws house.  In fact, when you are in a public place like a restaurant,  the airport, or at Grandma and Grandpa’s that’s when all bets are off.  Your child is out of their routine, they are tired/hungry/bored, they feel the stress, and they know that you are not going to stick to the House Rules when everyone is watching.  As far as table manners goes, if they don’t use them at home, they sure aren’t going to use them somewhere else.

That’s where we come in.  Children can’t practice what they haven’t been taught.

  • Explain in a friendly way what you expect.  Write it down together.
  • Work on one thing at a time.
  • Polite language:   please pass the peas, or no thank you–I don’t care for peas, this is delicious, may I please have more,  may I please be excused.
  • Using silverware and napkins appropriately.  Passing food to their neighbor.
  • Trying different foods, or declining politely.
  • Chewing with their mouth closed, no elbows on the table.
  • Waiting for others before beginning to eat.  Staying seated until finished.

You will be surprised at what good manners a young child can use!  They love to know about grownup rules and practice them.  It helps them feel proud and part of their culture.

Surrender and Win

The word surrender can mean “to give up” or lose, but that’s not what I am suggesting at all.  What I am talking about is “giving in” to the invitation to drop our unreasonable Holiday agendas, respect our children’s daily rhythms, and feel happy about it.  Let our children teach us when we are stretched too thin.

Now close your eyes.  Imagine the Holidays with a rested, grateful and well-mannered child. Happy Holidays!  child with snow globe



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