There is a lot of pressure often engendered by our commercially driven society to be on the go without pause during the holiday season. Between ultra-busy scheduling, budget busting buying sprees, sugar laden holiday treats and lots of family togetherness many families find the holidays to be a time of stress and frenzy.  When parents feel stressed, it trickles down to the children. When children feel stressed, they typically act out or melt down.

Let’s consider a few tips for how to avoid this downward spiral.

1. Limit the commitments. Cut back on the number of parties and events you reply “yes” to this year.  Leave room for unstructured time in your family’s schedule. Unstructured, unscheduled time is where spontaneous family fun can emerge or where silent snuggles occur.  Less running and going means more time to relax into the holidays.

2. Honor the bedtime routine: Often children get off their regular sleep routines. While unstructured, unscheduled time is important, honoring a bedtime routine is important as well.  Children (and adults) need their sleep all the time but especially during the holidays with all the stimuli and activity. And make sure sleep is happening in a darkened room with all electronic devices switched off.  A small night light for children is okay but the darker the better for more restful sleep.

3. Step away from the cookies: Too much sugar and white flour, sprinkles and food coloring seems to correlate with cranky children and irritable adults.  A sweet holiday treat after a healthy well balanced meal containing lots of (naturally) brightly colored veggies is a wonderful thing. A bowlful of candies and tins full of cookies up for grabs at all times may contribute to blood sugar spikes followed by crashes and moodiness to boot.

4. Don’t go Griswold: I confess I cringed when I heard a friend of mine say her husband had decided he’s “going Griswold” this year. The reference is to that very funny movie Christmas Vacation starring Chevy Chase where he covers his house in lights in pursuit of “the best Christmas ever” and is also met with a very stressful holiday.  I believe it is best for parents and children to keep it simple. Decorations need not be the brightest and most expensive. Gifts need not be voluminous and bank-breaking. Consider that it is the quality of time a family has together rather than how big and bright the holiday looks from the outside.

5. Eat at the table: Make a commitment to eat as many of your meals together as a family at the table. If all family members are not present, you can still take your meals at the table. Eat off of a dish, light a candle, take a breath, say a prayer of thanks or just take a moment to look at your food, savor and eat slowly.  Let mealtime be a time of coming together whether with your family or just by yourself. Take time to taste your food, chew slowly and focus on being in the moment.

6. Observe simple rituals: If you don’t already have family rituals, the holidays are a good time to begin. Regardless of your religion, there is always room for a candle to be lit as a way of observing what you believe – even if you aren’t religious at all. Light a candle, read a famous holiday story out loud in front of the fire, make a holiday pie together, sing songs together, watch It’s a Wonderful Life or Rudolph or some other special movie reserved just for the holidays. Children gain a sense of belonging and comfort in having certain rituals that they can count on each year.

7. Carve out time for silence: Observe silence a little bit every day. Well, more than just a little bit. Commit to 20 to 30 minutes a day. Turn off the TV, turn off your phone, shut down your computer and find a comfortable chair or seat on the floor. See if you can just sit and just notice the natural flow of your breath and the silence of the house (or car, or office).  You might choose after the children are asleep or during your commute to work in the morning.  If you are not driving, close your eyes and see if you can settle your mind by simply observing the rhythm of your breath.  Listen to the silence outside of you.  It’s golden.

8. Re-evaluate the to-do list: Do you really have to do all those things that others may expect of you on your list? It’s just a question to consider.  Try this: Substitute the word “could” instead of “should” every time you find yourself saying or thinking “I should….”  Consider that it’s all a choice.  You don’t have to send out 1000 holiday cards. You don’t have to participate in this year’s cookie swap.  You don’t have to spend 6 hours at the office holiday party. Take another look at that list and see if you can find ways to simplify, cut back on the number of items and reclaim your time for yourself and your family.

If you can find way to implement these ideas into your life this holiday season, I am willing to bet you and your children will experience unexpected moments of greater joy and peace.

May your holidays be mindful and peaceful,

Lynn Louise Wonders