As we approach the end of the year (again!) and are officially into December with Christmas fast approaching, I thought it would be helpful to do a recap of previous articles with ideas for how to make memorable holidays with your family. We have added so many new readers to The Kid Counselor family (thank you!) and the articles are buried so far back in the archives, I wanted to make them available and easy to find in a compilation post. Even if you remember these articles from years past, you will still be inspired by the ideas of how to make special and significant experiences with your kids in the next few weeks.
1. Adopt a Family Meal
Many of us know families that have been affected by the economy and are struggling to make this Christmas special. If you personally know a family that could benefit from a holiday meal, choose them as your adopted family this year. Include your kids in deciding what they would like to add to the meal bag, and have them pick items at the grocery store with you. This teaches generosity and selflessness, plus an economic lesson in cost and goods purchased. If your kids have their own money from allowance or savings, ask what they would like to contribute to the meal with their own money. (One child might want to buy the box of stuffing, one might want to buy an apple pie). If you don’t personally know of a family that could use a meal, many churches and grocery stores partner with agencies that serve needy families and can provide a family for you to adopt.
2. Go Caroling to Elderly Neighbors
There is something very special about hearing carolers show up outside your door when it is unexpected. Especially when you may not have anyone to celebrate with you when you are older and living alone. Select three or four homes that you will visit on your caroling route as a family, and pick songs that are easy to recognize and sing along with. Music is one of the most prominent memories that we maintain, even in later life, and takes us to special places in the past. This act teaches consideration of others’ needs and helps children recognize easy ways to bring joy to others.
3. Take Handmade Gifts to Nursing Homes or Hospitals
Almost all of us live within driving distance to a hospital or assisted living facility. Many of these residents will be alone and without visitors during the busy season. Your kids can make simple and easy crafts or cards and take them as gifts. (Dipping pine cones in glue and rolling them in glitter makes really easy and quick ornaments that can be hung anywhere to spread cheer!) This teaches gratitude for health and family, as well as helping children understand the significance of giving to others without expecting anything in return.
4. Babysit for a Single Parent
It is difficult to manage the stress and busyness of the holiday season with support and help from family members. it can be overwhelming for a single parent working full-time to shop for gifts without their kids and prepare for Christmas morning. Offer to host a kids’ play date for your kids and a few other children to allow a few hours for a single parent to get some errands out of the way or presents wrapped. Not only do your kids get to spend some time with friends, they learn to be aware of offering your home and friendship to others who need a helping hand.
5. Donate Toys to Needy Children
We all know about the Operation Toy Drive and Toys for Tots programs available. Apart from buying a specific present for one child (which is certainly another option to teach positive lessons to your kids), another idea is to sit down with your kids and have them choose toys that they are willing to donate to homeless shelters or residential children’s homes to make room for toys they will receive for Christmas gifts. This keeps rooms and play areas a little cleaner and less cluttered, but more importantly, helps kids understand the idea of surplus and need.
6. Deliver Animal Treats or Toys for Shelters
There are very easy recipes for dog and cat treats on the internet that can be made in your own kitchen with the help of your children. Another option is to allot a certain amount of money to purchase toys at a store for the animals in shelters. (Dollar stores typically have a selection of toys and treats in a pet section). Children who grow up with pets understand the emotional and familial bond that takes place between humans and animals, and this serves as a good object lesson for making sure you take responsibility and commitment to pet ownership seriously. Kids that are not used to pets can witness the giving and loving volunteers who provide care for animals without homes.
7. Host an Appreciation Event
There are so many people throughout the year who invest in our lives and make a difference in our families. Teachers, pastors, friends, neighbors, coaches, community leaders, and family are all individuals who deserve to be recognized for their influence and contribution in your lives. It can be as simple as drinks and appetizers or as elaborate as a catered meal, but your kids can be involved in helping create the guest list and discussing why they want to honor them. This demonstrates appreciation for people who care about you and your family and helps children learn the value of expressing gratitude.
8. Create a Yearly Review Journal
Begin a new tradition of spending some time Christmas Eve reminiscing and recording good things that happened in the past year, with every member contributing things that they recall with fond memories. This will not only keep things in perspective as you enjoy telling stories as a family, but will allow you to reflect back each year over all of the previous entries made. A way to extend this past just your family is to create thank you notes to anyone outside of your family that played a part in making those memories special. (Dear Grandma, Thanks for taking us to the zoo this year! Love, Joey and Jess). This reinforces the idea of being thankful, and helps kids to focus on what is important.
Children, during their formative years, make connections to what happened when they felt certain emotions, and these connections are stored in the long-term memory banks. A study found that one-on-one time with parents that created a bond, perfect timing of something that was needed, and seemingly small experiences that are often forgotten by parents were three of the common themes of recollections provided by adult children recalling important memories.
Here are some real world examples:
- One of my most significant memory of the holidays was my aunt taking pictures with a very old camera. She had to view the image by looking down into the box and then turn the handle to take the picture. This required a lot of time, and we usually were staring into the sun, which meant we all were yelling for her to hurry up and laughing about how crazy she was for using a 100 year old camera.
- One of my husbands greatest holiday memories was playing the boardgame Risk and playing cards with all of his cousins on Christmas Eve. He has a large family, and playing games with his family that he had not seen in almost a year was always something to which he looked forward.
- My brother-in-law shared stories of his last family camping trip over Christmas break. He said everything that could have gone wrong did, including torrential rain, leaky tents, long hikes to the bathrooms in wet mud, a broken down truck and other awful experiences. However, they also talked about how they will never forget that trip, and how they worked together as a team and learned how to get through rough times together. They now laugh when they tell the story.
In an effort to slow down and enjoy Christmas with your families, there are simple techniques that you can use. Here are a few for you to consider:
1. Family Night
During the holidays, choose a night that can be designated “Family Night”. Watch a movie, read stories, order pizza, whatever suits your families needs.
Do not commit to activities that pull you and your children in different directions. Plan activities that include all members of the family.
3. Give Time
Visit a nursing home or hospital, elderly neighbor or relative, local shelter, etc. to spread holiday cheer.
Volunteer as a family to partner with a community organization that provides for under-privileged families.
Keep your house as calm and soothing as possible. Eliminate clutter and noise by working together to get the gifts wrapped and turning off the TV and videogames.
6. Old Traditions
Continue with family traditions that are part of your history. If you do not know of any, ask an older relative to share memories of their holidays and see what you can find out.
7. New Traditions
Start a new family tradition of baking cookies, making homemade greeting cards, singing carols together, lighting candles at dinner or bedtime, start a family scrap book or diary, etc. Be creative!
8. Minimize Consumerism
Try to avoid taking young children shopping, as they cannot understand the concept of selflessness. Cut down on their exposure to commercials that encourage lots of spending.
9. Keep Priorities
Use the rule of thumb “Spend half as much money as usual and spend twice the amount of time with your family as usual”.
10. Family Time
Focus on activities that bring your family closer together and acknowledge the needs of others.
Kids need to be shown the principles of sharing, giving and love. The more exposed they are to opportunities that allow for learning, the more it will have an impact long term. Thus, during the Christmas Season, a focus outside of gifts and presents can be very beneficial and rewarding for all members of the family.
Here are ten more tips to help you create significant and focused memories with your kids:
1. Keep Holiday Feasts to a minimum
This seems like a silly tip, but kids do not like fancy foods. Desserts will probably be the only thing that interests them at a big meal. Don’t forget to bring more basic foods for your children to a family get-together or balance fancy meals with simple ones during the week.
2. Incorporate your faith into your celebrations
Kids love to learn and process, so make it a learning experience for them to understand what you believe. Make a cake for Jesus’ birthday, discuss the importance of the Menorah, etc.
3. Make reindeer and Santa treats with your children
These are simple projects that allow you and your children to spend time together enjoying each other. Cutting carrots or baking cookies are easy things for kids to do. If you want to be more creative, make reindeer food with granola, marshmallows, sprinkles, etc. to throw on the ground outside.
4. Help kids “look” for Santa
You can make a scope with two toilet paper rolls taped together, paint it red, and decorate it with cotton balls. Older kids might like www.noradsanta.org to track Santa’s progress.
5. Go to a special service or activity
Many city events and church activities are planned during December. Ideas include a pageant, nativity, festival, concert, tree lighting, etc.
6. Go on a “Festival of Lights” tour
Make it a family outing to view the lights, decorations, displays and festivities in your community. It can be better with cookies and hot chocolate!
7. Watch a Christmas Classic
Choose a movie that your family can enjoy together. Maybe watch an old choice (Miracle on 34th Street) and a newer one (Elf).
8. Live out a family version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
Identify a friend, relative or neighbor to receive all of the “gifts.” Then, create a unique gift for each day of the song (i.e., five golden rings could be five glazed donuts) and place the gifts on the recipient’s front porch.
9. Go to the movies on Christmas Day
Not only are you likely to get good seats, but this is a relaxing way to spend time with your family before you go back to work.
10. Secret Santa
Everyone has done one at work, but this works well as a family activity. Choose one person you know who is lonely, needy or just needs some encouragement. Purchase or make a special gift and on Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning, take it, as a family, to the person’s home. Leave it with a note, “From your Secret Santa” at the door.
I hope this gives you some new ideas and thoughts for this year. Remember, it is not the gifts and the presents that leave the biggest impression on your children- it is time spent creating special memories that will last for years to come!