Childhood is “a short, sweet season,” worthy of the thoughtful attention of loving adults. That’s one of our core beliefs at Highlights.
In this early, brief window of life (Yes, brief. As the saying goes, the days are long but the years are short!), parents and grandparents have tremendous influence over their children. The seeds of curiosity, creativity, caring, and confidence, planted in the fertile soil of early childhood and nurtured, is how kids begin to grow into their best selves. And we can all agree that raising children who strive to be their best selves is our best hope for peace on earth.
The holidays offer wonderful opportunities to double down on this intention. Many traditions place children front-and-center, with the adults in their lives bustling around them to create memories the kids will treasure for years. But what is it that we want our children to recall? What is it that should remain with our children permanently after the gifts are opened, the holiday goodies gobbled up, and the tree has shed its needles?
We want our children to remember feeling not just excited and entertained but, above all, loved. And we want them to experience the good feelings of making others feel loved. When we provide them with experiences that foster these feelings, we create the most meaningful kind of celebration.
If you want a holiday season rich with meaning—one that will give you all more joy and strengthen the family bond—here are a few ideas:
- Gather your family’s holiday-themed books, or visit your library to check out favorites. Gift wrap each book, and let your children choose one book to unwrap and read together at bedtime. They’ll enjoy the element of surprise and the time spent reading aloud together.
- Although less common these days, we like the practice of sending friends and family seasonal greetings. Let your kids help you create your family’s holiday card. If your tradition is a Christmas photo, solicit their ideas for a backdrop, a theme, and a message. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Strive for an authentic representation of your family! Or make a family card using your kids’ drawings. Maybe your crew would enjoy creating a video greeting card. If you enlist their help in scripting the message, they’ll practice writing skills and have fun at the same time.
- December calendars fill up fast with parties and special events. Take a breather and commit to spending at least one night a week “cocooning” at home. Keep this family night sacred by saying a firm no to other invitations. Order pizza or fix a simple dinner to allow time to play a board game, work a jigsaw puzzle, or watch a holiday movie. Bundle up and take a long winter walk or build a snowman family. Imagine at least four nights in this busy month that are all and only about your family!
- It’s easy for kids to catch the “gimmes” this time of year, but you can help them think of others. Engage them in a toy drive for less fortunate children. Or find a volunteer activity the whole family can do together. You could ring a bell to collect coins for charity, shop for a food pantry, volunteer to help serve at a community luncheon, or take supplies to a local animal shelter. To start the habit of charitable giving, you might talk with your children about donating a portion of their allowance to a cause they feel strongly about. When they give some of their own money, they may experience in a whole new way the good feeling that comes from being generous.
- Handmade gifts rock! They move the focus off the money and put it on thoughtfulness. Encourage your kids to think creatively about what they could make that a loved one would cherish, and then provide the necessary supplies. It might even be an opportunity for them to learn a new skill, such as knitting, scrapbooking, or even songwriting.
- Tell the story of the origin of the holiday you celebrate. Consider, also, sharing the origin stories of the holidays your friends and neighbors celebrate. This could open some great conversations about how we’re all alike, as well as different.
- Add to your family’s holiday traditions. Start a memory book. Buy or make a beautiful notebook or journal, which you’ll store with your seasonal decorations and bring out year after year. When the holiday is over—or as your family is celebrating—let each family member, including the kids, record some of their favorite moments from the month. Younger kids may need help writing—or you can encourage them to draw a picture to tell their story. They’ll enjoy revisiting their entries year after year—and so will you.
Christine French Cully is Chief Purpose Officer and Editor in Chief at Highlights for Children. As Chief Purpose Officer, Cully’s focus is on growing awareness and implementation of the Highlights purpose, core beliefs, and values—to help actualize the organization’s vision for a world where all children can become people who can change the world for the better....