Asset Building Your Way through the Holidays

No self-respecting mother would run out of intimidations on the eve of a major holiday.
—Erma Bombeck

Around significant holidays, even under the best of circumstances, it’s tempting to turn to bribes or threats to get kids to behave the way we want them to (e.g., you’d better be nice to your sister or you might not get any presents). Add to that stressors like juggling work and school vacation schedules, balancing “down time” with visiting and celebrating, sharing time in divorced or separated families, and the other real-life issues that families face, and you have a recipe for holiday horribleness. But with a little patience and planning, holidays can be used to nurture many positive aspects of the developmental foundation young people need to succeed in life. Here are some examples:

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Make holiday celebrations about being with friends and family, rather than focused on gift giving. Keep gifts for family and friends small so that the true meaning of the season comes through.
    • Ask holiday party invitees to bring food to donate to a shelter. This will be a great way to show your children that the holiday season is also about helping others, not just about going to parties and getting presents.
    • Develop a holiday library with books about your traditions as well as those of others. Talk about the things you celebrate and why they are important in your family.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Ask significant adults in your children’s lives to give gifts of time or activities (such as a trip to a park, an afternoon of baking, or a visit to a museum), rather than material goods.
    • Develop traditions and rituals that suit your family’s lifestyle even if they don’t seem traditional or are different from what others are doing. Celebrate the New Year, for example, by always letting each family member choose one food as part of the meal. Or invite another family over for board games and popcorn.
    • If you don’t live with your child’s other parent, remember that it can be particularly stressful for your child when he or she is splitting holiday time between parents. Be sensitive to that and make it as easy as possible for your child to enjoy time with both parents. Listen to your child if he or she wants to talk about it.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Make significant holidays times for giving as a family to others through volunteering your time, making financial contributions, or donating goods and services.
    • As much as possible, continue traditions started when your children were younger. Though they are growing and changing, it’s important for them to trust that there is continuity and consistency in life.
    • Celebrate Make Up Your Mind Day (December 31) by inviting everyone in the family to tell about one decision they want and need to make. If appropriate, encourage all to make those decisions on this day.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Talk with your teen about starting some new holiday traditions now that they are older and have more freedom and more interest in spending time with friends. Be open to something like going with a group to a movie after Thanksgiving dinner or hosting and supervising an alcohol- and drug-free New Year’s Eve party that goes past midnight.
    • Do something active together as part of celebrating or honoring holidays. Since many people have time off from work, school, or other commitments, it can be a good time for a game of touch football or a walk in a nearby park or dancing in the living room.
  • In honor of World Peace Day (the Winter Solstice, December 21, 2006), do something together to promote peace: light a candle and be silent together, read aloud a story or poem about peace, settle an argument, offer an apology, write a letter together to an elected official advocating peaceful resolution to local, national, or world conflicts.

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