Visualize a heart-filled holiday.
You can do this one at the dinner table. Have everyone in the family close their eyes, focus on their heart, and imagine what kind of holiday will bring joy into their heart. Then share your ideas around the table. This helps kids feel listened to, cared for, and included.
Spread the joy around.
The time-honored tradition of helping others can shift priorities. If kids or teens are moping around or showing signs of stress, take them to the local soup kitchen to serve meals. Visit a nursing home with hand-made cards. Helping others gives kids a feeling of more control and a sense of being both useful and appreciated.
Blow out negativity, light up hope.
Create a family ritual of hope. Have two candles for each family member: one lit, one not. Have each imagine what they’d like to let go of — what no longer serves them — and say, “I’m going to toss this out (anger, worry, meanness to my sister) when I blow this candle out.” Then light a new candle and share, “I hope to bring in (kindness, faith, cleaning my room) as I light anew.” Let go of the old and bring in the new.
Give distress a voice.
If this is your child’s the first holiday without a loved one — grandpa passed away, or big sister is in Afghanistan — younger family members may feel a deep sense of loss. Or maybe your child is feeling the stress of a recent divorce. Give her paper and markers, and ask her to draw whatever is making her sad or mad. Then ask her what the picture wants to say out loud. Often, putting a face on an emotion and letting it “speak” makes the child feel better–and gives the parent a way to understand what’s going on.
Sweat is sweet.
Kids (and adults) can get all pent up during holiday time. Surprise little ones by clearing the furniture out of the center of the room, turning on some fun music, and dancing vigorously for 10 minutes. Or bundle up the family and take a wintry walk while playing “I Spy.” Exercise releases feel-good chemicals and is one of the fastest ways to chase away holiday blahs and instill a sense of togetherness.
Charlotte Reznick is a child educational psychologist, an associate clinical professor of psychology at UCLA, and author of a new book, The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (Perigee, 2009, $14.95).