By now, family members are accustomed to me asking for holiday Wish Lists or kids’ current clothing sizes in October. Why am I making preparations so early?
Sure, I get online and order before the Sold Out box shows up and I’ve reduced the stress level I caused myself with the “Help!–I need more hours in my day” cry.
But it’s nothing like that.
With preparations done, I’m free to carry a message of grace and love to the vast number of people who need it in December.
Done with our personal preparations, we can look, listen and respond to others who feel things like this:
- “The problem with all the Christian holiday displays is that…others feel alien in comparison. We’re the other Americans, the hyphened Americans. I love the multi-culturalism of our nation, the myriad ethnicities and histories. Let’s really celebrate it.” (Shahar Lubin)
- “I don’t mind the pageantry of Christmas….As long as my views [as a skeptic] are respected and the fact that I don’t attend church regularly doesn’t make me a lesser person in [a Christian’s] eyes, I’m perfectly fine.” (Ryan Johnson)
- “And worst of all, the endlessly expanding extravagance of gifts and parties actually makes these days incredibly stressful for millions of people leading to higher depression and suicide rates. Christmas kills, if inadvertently so.” (Edward Clint)
Be present for your neighbor and for those you don’t know well.
Walk in the opposite spirit. I’m with EJ Dionne who said, “I find it decidedly un-Christian to insist on aggressively pushing Christmas greetings onto those who own religious commitments are different from mine.”
With a headstart on preparations, we can keep an open mind and an open calendar.
A special ed teacher, writing in O Magazine, tells of being on the receiving end of a boy who was paying attention.
“One year a boy in my 5th grade class lost his mother in a car accident…..At Christmastime he saw the other students giving me gifts, so he came in with a two-liter bottle of ginger ale. He said he looked around his house and wanted to get me something special, and he knew I liked soda. I cried.
“Every year at this time, we are called to renew our hope that cold indifference and smug complacency can be overcome by a humble and gentle love powerful enough to inspire [us all].” (EJ Dionne)
Tweetable: Big rewards lie in store for people who make themselves buckle down and get holiday preparations done early. The reward I’m thinking of is not what you think. More here. Click to Tweet
Smile whenever you see courtesy in a child you’re close to. You are a walking, talking, indelible image of how to make your corner of the world a better place. Your courtesy efforts multiply because they are doing what you do.
Family members were happy to share these experiences.
- “The kids lower their voices when they are on their cellphones in public. When I was trying to learn to do this, I used to say that if I’m having trouble hearing someone, raising my voice doesn’t fix it.”
- “When my daughter is wearing headphones, I’ve seen her become more aware of staying tuned to social courtesies. When I accidentally cross someone’s personal space, I apologize and she is picking up on this.”
- “My family doesn’t show up at a party empty-handed, unless we’ve been instructed to. We bring a food item (but not always to serve then) or a plant. My daughter spoke up from the backseat recently when I completely forgot to do this so we stopped and picked something up.”
- “If our children are invited to a friend’s house to play, they also feel invited to help with the cleanup. That’s been a tough one to learn but it’s coming along.”
- “Since people offend me at times, once in a while when my child is with me, I’m open about my ups and downs on the road to forgiving. I generally let my son in on the conversation as I’m working it out and even ask him what he would do.”
- “My nephew was watching as someone started a rant with me about politics. Later I talked to him about why I did not inject my own political opinions but simply summarized this friend’s position to her, letting her know I heard her.”
What easy acts of courtesy can you add to this list?
“Courtesy is a small act but it packs a mighty wallop.” –Lewis Carroll
Tweetable: Pivot away from today’s disheartening rhetoric toward the elaborate courtesy your own children offered to many people they were with. Go here for a smile. Click to Tweet
Decompress …. Have some fun teaching kids this all-important life skill.
1. Finger-counting breaths
“A do-anywhere exercise. Create gentle fists with your hands, and with each breath, unfurl a finger from your palm. For example, on your first exhale open your left thumb from your fist. Pause and enjoy an inhale. On your next exhale, unfurl your left index finger. Pause and enjoy an inhale. Continue until you have two open palms on your lap.” Jillian Pransky
2. Attitude-changing breaths
Change the exercise in #1 to include a word(s) as the child breaths and unfurls each finger— like peace, quiet, I’m safe, God is with me.
3. Nature walk
Get out of the house for a 15-minute walk with children. Add more calm by asking the kids to point out natural wonders as they walk.
4. Legs up the wall
Children find a space along the wall where they can lie down. Begin by sitting upright along the wall with one hip touching the wall and legs extended out in front of them, parallel to the wall. Slowly lie back onto the ground/floor as their torso moves to allow legs to swing up the wall with feet pressed flat into the air, as if they were standing on the ground. Close their eyes, breathe naturally and listen to their breathing. Hold for 5 minutes.
5. Shake It Off
Find a fast, upbeat song to play. Tell children that when they hear the music, they should shake their bodies (for 30 seconds) as much as possible—legs, arms, torso, feet, hands, everything! Tell children that when the music stops, they will clap their hands as loudly as possible, three times. On the third clap, they will leave their hands together and bring them to their heart, close their eyes, take three big inhales and exhales.
Choose a prayer and pray it slowly. Here’s a sample: Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8
Tweetable: Have some fun teaching children six exercises to decompress when they feel overwhelmed or stressed. Click to Tweet
“Sacrifice focuses on a goal. Deprivation focuses on poor me. Sacrifice lifts my head and lets me see the big picture. Deprivation turns my eyes inward so I see nothing but myself.” (Mary Hunt)
A reader in our blog community passed these thoughts along with a note: “If only this wisdom could be given to kids.”
Yes, but– for starters, sacrifice is giving up something valuable to me.
Human beings don’t do this easily.
For another thing, sacrifice costs me something.
Money, time, what I want when I want it. If it doesn’t cost us, how can it be a sacrifice? But isn’t there a reward in sacrifice?
The reward is perhaps the best way to introduce children to the concept of sacrifice.
I’ve taken kids to a shelter for women and children where they saw who was receiving their donations of clothing and toys… and these donations were not entirely their castoffs, but items we had chosen and purchased. The children had a lot to say on the way home as they processed their experience. Their spirits lifted when they saw that they had done something good. Maybe a little serotonin dropping into their circulatory system helps? I want them to know the good feeling they get after making the choice to bless someone else. Some children will decide they want to feel it again– and that it’s worth the sacrificed involved. My goal was to show them that sacrifice can produce a good feeling equal to the feeling they get when their own wishes have come true.
Show them the greater good.
Whatever children give up is generally only temporary. They will get more of it–sometimes sooner, sometimes later. To focus on the negative – the act of depriving oneself – doesn’t work well in almost any avenue of life. Better to pivot toward the positive – the achievement of something far more worthy than whatever valuable possession or enjoyment they gave up.
Tweetable: When a child sacrifices something valuable to him, in order to make life better for someone else, we can point out the rewards. Here are some ways to do that. Click to Tweet
Two months ago I moved to Northern California. Our backyard has a deck and lots of bare dirt. I was talking with some of the children in our extended family (ages 9, 7 and 5) about ideas for the dirt. The five-year-old suggested that we put in a “beaver pond.” Other ideas floated were for a butterfly garden, lizards, birdhouses, sunflowers, ladybugs and “a bird’s nest—tiny.”
As we talked, the youngest started making a checklist (I recognize those boxes with check marks!) and another was sketching out the garden design (see above). When I noticed their affinity for planning, I decided to turn their ideas into a S.M.A.R.T. goal for myself and show it to them. Maybe I could model for them one proven method of moving ideas into becoming a reality.
I chose the birdhouses as my example S.M.A.R.T. goal.
- SPECIFIC: I want to add two birdhouses to my garden.
- MEASURABLE: To meet my goal I will gather materials to make 2 birdhouses and invite these children to help me make them.
- ACTION PLAN: Go to the craft store for supplies. Arrange with their parents a good time to work on it. Brainstorm what we want to do to celebrate our completed goal.
- REALISTIC: (for reflection afterwards) Did I reach my goal? What worked? What didn’t work?
- TIME (BY WHEN?) By June 15
Maybe one of them will want to try making a SMART goal for something they want to do this summer.
“Small victories, successfully implemented, yield huge results.” –Peter Walsh
Tweetable: Free from school routine, kids can turn some of their own ideas into reality with S.M.A.R.T. goals. Click to Tweet
In an old issue of Psychology Today, I ran across an article featuring the words of Dennis Rosen, M.D.
Sometimes children seem so self absorbed and so preoccupied with gadgets and toys, we wonder whether they are aware of, or care about, what goes on around them. We like to tell ourselves, “Something” must be wrong with this generation.
Except there isn’t. The problem lies with us, the adults, who could be challenging them to think about others, and leading them to action.
Prior to going to Haiti to volunteer at a hospital, Dr. Rosen spoke to his daughter’s second grade class about the conditions there, showing them pictures of what life is like for children just like them. Following his visit, the class collected over 7,000 vitamins for him to give out.
“The empathy and genuine interest of these seven year olds was so impressive, and yet, upon reflection, not really that surprising. To help others in need is a very basic human instinct (though one that is not always acted upon).”
5 fun activities teach kids to think of others.
Author Cat Skorupski’s ideas I’m going to use with the kids in my life this summer:
- Surprise parents by making a favorite food for each of them and present it at the next meal.
- Do a chore without being asked. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s one that will resonate big-time with parents. The more annoying the chore, the better. Make a movie of each child doing it and show their parents.
- Raise money for a cause dear to someone’s heart. Showing that you care about something he or she cares about—enough to invest your time and energy—is a huge compliment.
- Take a song you already know and write new words to it, making it about someone special to you! It doesn’t have to be complicated—heck, it doesn’t even have to be on-key. It’s the thought that counts! Then record it onto a phone or computer and send it to them.
- Create a scavenger hunt. Hide affirmation notes around the house for a sibling or other relative to find. The notes could be hidden in sequence with clues that lead the hunter to the next treasure or they could just be hidden randomly.
Tweetable: Show kids how you care about others, then guide them do this directly on their own with 5 new ideas. Click to Tweet