By Amanda Ashy-Boyd
Change is hard. Especially personal change because there is so much uncertainty around the outcome. When we feel uncertain, it can make us feel unsafe. Why? Because uncertainty drops us into our limbic brain, our emotional centre where we swirl around in the emotional waters of fear, confusion, frustration, sorrow, despair. But we can change that! Uncertainty can bring fear, but it can also bring freedom and the incredible thing about the human brain is we get to choose if we feel fearful or free. Choice is always the one thing we know we have…
This is a magical time of year and there is no reason this magic shouldn’t stay alive. As we prepare for the festive season there are a few things you can do to help you make the best choices for your whole family, especially your children. Children listen to the unspoken body language of their parents: facial expressions, eye contact, vocal tone, to help them assess a situation. They unconsciously learn from what they see rather than what they’re told, so as you embark on your quest for a merry and joyful Christmastime, one thing you can do to ready yourself for the change is to tweak your everyday routine by adding some simple mindfulness techniques.
This takes no extra time (something parents simply don’t have) so don’t worry. These mindfulness techniques are easy ways to connect the mind and body and also to bring a sense of calm into your body. The connection and calm radiating from you will deliver an unspoken message to your children that they are safe, loved and that the joys of the Christmas season will not be stolen by the Grinch of 2020!
Read on for my practical tips for parents, carers and kids to reconnect with themselves, remember the true meaning of Christmas spirit and get ready for a calmer Christmas adventure!
Tips For Parents:
After swimming in the choppy waters of 2020 for months and months, many of us are mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. We need a reprise. Your resilient body and mind can give you that with a tiny shift in your mindset. Adding these simple mindfulness techniques will provide the mind and body with a sense of stability, strength and clarity. Once you are steady, you can then shift your attention to problem solving and making the best of a different situation.
- Grounding: Notice when you’re projecting towards an unknown future and then make a choice to come into the present moment. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know what is happening right here in this moment. Come into the present by noticing all of the sounds in the room. How far outside of the room can you hear sounds? Open up your sense of sound fully and listen to the symphony happening around you.
- Steadying: Steady yourself by regularly noticing your breath and focusing on long inhales and exhales. Place a hand on your belly and make sure the breath is travelling down beyond your chest. Three conscious breaths, three to four times a day is a wonderful and nourishing mind and body reset.
- Gratitude: Our brain has a tendency to focus on the negative but you can rewire the neural pathways in your brain by practicing gratitude. Gratitude helps you notice all of the good around us, whether that’s the trees blowing in the wind, birds singing their morning song, children laughing, warm morning coffee or an extended hug with your partner. No matter how rubbish your day was, make sure to feel those hard feelings, but monitor the stories that are being created by those feelings. You can refocus your attention by practicing gratitude each morning before opening your eyes and as the last thing you do before drifting off into sleep.
Keeping Kids Happy this Christmas:
Similar to every other holiday and celebration this year, Christmas will be different. When things are different to how you might expect them to be, there will understandably be some disappointment. And that is totally okay. But children will quickly mirror back to you what they feel from you, and that is where the Christmas spirit lives – inside of YOU.
Dr Dan Siegel, a child and adolescent psychological expert says “as children develop their brains ‘mirror’ their parent’s brain”.
So, let’s show our children that the spirit of Christmas is still alive inside of us all, regardless of the changes we might experience. How many people are around to celebrate; how many gifts are under the tree and how much food is spread across the table… The details might be a bit different but the meaning of Christmas is still as important as ever. And the ultimate meaning behind Christmas is being with the people we love to celebrate life.
You can support your children during this time by making new and meaningful Christmas memories. Our memories are stored in our brain forever and if after all of our trials and challenges from this year we are able to create some magical memories with our children, that will live inside of them for many years to come.
Tips For Children:
Children are highly sensory beings so providing them with fun and creative outlets will not only make new magical Christmas memories, but it’ll also allow them to express their emotions so prepare some fun family activities you can do together to keep the joys of Christmas alive. Here are some suggestions to keep the kids excited during the countdown to Christmas Day:
Bake Christmas Cookies: Baking is a wonderful holiday tradition to start and it’s also a great mindfulness activity because it’s creative, fun and also brings you into the present moment. The present moment is a great place to be because then we’re not creating stories about the past or worrying about the future. Making Christmas Tree cookies is an inexpensive and easy activity to do with kids because it really only requires four ingredients: flour, baking powder, sugar and an egg and just add a bit of green food colouring. To avoid needing a special cookie cutter, simply make varying sizes of triangles with the cookie dough so you can have big and small trees. Then, cut out some dough squares to make the tree trunks and decorate with raisins. Voila!
Gratitude Christmas Tree Ornament: Make a gratitude hand to hang on your tree. First, make an example hand ahead of time to show the kids so they have a visual and can get excited about the project. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just an example. Then choose a day to make your ornaments. Each family member will trace their hand, decorate it with either paint or markers and cut it out. Leave space when you’re decorating your hand to list three things you’re grateful for in your life. If younger children need an explanation of what gratitude is, an easy explanation is – noticing all of the good, beautiful things in your life that make you happy. Most young children will be grateful for their family, friends, food and their cuddly toys. This is perfect!
Make A Meaningful Christmas Wish List: Gift giving has a whole new meaning and this year it can include a meaningful adventure for your child which will make a lasting memory for the entire family. Click here for this PDF downloadable example to use for the whole family.
- Something I want (the big Christmas gift)
- Something I need (hobby item, sports, school necessity)
- Something to wear (clothes, shoes, accessories)
- Something to read (book, magazine, album)
- Something fun to do (horse riding, ice skating, observatory, zip-lining)
Create A Christmas Playlist: Singing, expressing and dancing all bring joy into your body, and if our body feels joy then your mind feels joy. Get the family together and each of you choose three of your favourite Christmas songs to add to your family playlist. This could become your special Covid Christmas Playlist and these versions of the songs that you choose will forever remind you of how you came together as a family during one of the hardest times for humanity ever in our lifetime.
When we recognise that we can choose how to create our reality, that gives us so much power. The ability to do this comes when we are able to bring stability, strength and clarity into our body and mind. As parents, practicing these mindfulness techniques can help you achieve this and then, that in turn will be passed down to your children.
It’s been an incredibly tough year, and we have overcome so much as a collective human race but noticing the good at a time like now can be challenging. The best way to do that, is to be present in this moment, not the past, not the future. Be here now and know that whatever comes next, we’ve got it!
Wishing you all a very meaningful Christmas adventure together.
Amanda is a Child Mindfulness Expert, yoga teacher and the founder of Grounded Little Minds a fun, online course for children aged 7 to 11 to learn how to boost their emotional intelligence and grow their social-emotional wellbeing. See amandaashyboyd.com/grounded-little-minds for more information.