The holidays can be hectic and stressful, even under the best of circumstances. But this year, due to the pandemic, many of our favorite holiday experiences may be different or put on hold. Concerts, performances, and big celebrations will likely be cancelled. Large family gatherings may be impossible. Shopping for gifts may have to happen online.
You can still make the holidays special by slowing down and savoring the beauty and meaning of the season. This revised post from 2018 about creating a mindful holiday with your family provides pandemic-appropriate strategies to encourage your child to use their senses to notice what makes the season special, plus some Magination Press titles that may be helpful.
You can give your family the gift of calm this holiday season by practicing mindfulness together. A silver lining of the pandemic’s change of plans is that it allows you more time to notice the beauty of the season.
You don’t need to sit silently and meditate; you just need to slow down and be in the moment. You can model holiday mindfulness for your child by putting down your phone and other electronics and being present for each experience. Encourage your children to focus on their five senses and their hearts throughout the season.
Here are some ideas to bring mindfulness to many common holiday activities and tasks:
Concerts, plays, and other performances: These events will happen differently this year. Seek out favorite or new musical, theatrical, or dance performances online or happening outdoors in a socially distanced way. However they happen, these events are a feast for the eyes and ears. Encourage your child to watch and listen carefully.
- Ask them to think about how watching and listening to the performers makes them feel.
- At intermissions and afterward, talk about what each of you found the most beautiful, surprising, funny, or sad during the performance.
- Even if you don’t see a holiday performance, your family can create one of your own, singing favorite holiday songs or acting out favorite stories.
Magination Press books Accordionly: Abuelo and Opa Make Music by Michael Genhart and My Singing Nana by Pat Mora explore how families enjoying music together can bring a family together.
Decorations: Even if you don’t decorate your home for the holidays, you’ll be surrounded by decorations in your community. The sights, sounds, and smells can be captivating.
Lights are a big part of many winter holidays, whether they are candles, twinkling lights on trees, or big displays. Talk with your child about lights as you see them or as you light candles.
- Why do they think lights are such an important part of many winter holiday celebrations?
- How do the lights make them feel?
- What are their favorite kinds of lights?
Share your tradition’s stories about the role of lights.
Many of our holiday decorations have a distinctive scent: pine, melted wax, spices (think Gingerbread houses or clove and orange pomanders). Even fire in the fireplace–not necessarily a holiday thing, but a cozy winter experience–has a distinctive smell. Encourage your child to notice the way things smell different at the holidays. Some people even think that air outside has a distinctive smell when it is going to snow.
Cooking, baking and feasting: Taste and smell are front and center here, but also touch. Include your children in cooking and baking for the season, allowing them to help with as much preparation as possible.
- Ask them to think about how ingredients feel and smell as they prepare them. Even preschoolers can help tearing lettuce for a salad!
- When eating special holiday treats, encourage your child to taste slowly, savoring the flavor, texture, and aroma of each item. Ask them to describe how a treat tastes.
- When making and eating traditional family items, tell your child the story of the dish and the memories you have around it.
Gifts: Choosing gifts for folks can be an overwhelming task, and often buying gifts can be expensive, hectic, time-consuming, and stressful. Gifts don’t always have to be things, though. Grow Kind by Jon Lasser and Sage Foster-Lasser explores how kindness can be the best gift of all. The wordless picture book I See You by Michael Genhart can help kids build empathy for those who might be struggling in these times and give them perspective on how fortunate they are.
- Engage your child in thinking about what simple item or experience might be a special gift for a loved one. Emphasize that the value of the gift is not how much it costs or how fancy it is, but how it reflects the giver’s care and admiration for the recipient.
- Encourage children to make gifts. This engages sight, touch, and sometimes smell and taste if the gift is baked or cooked. Homemade coupons or gift certificates are a great way to give experiences to loved ones.
- Wrap gifts together. This is a lovely, tactile, and visual experience. And many hands make light work.
- Arrange to deliver gifts to people outside your immediate family in a touch-free, safe way by mailing them, dropping them off on a porch, or leaving them at an apartment or retirement home’s front desk.
Being outdoors: Even if you don’t like snow sports, winter is a great time to be outside. Fresh air and sunshine can help chase away winter blues and foster a sense of calm. Try reading Silence by Lemniscantes to see how a child can stop, listen, and reflect on the world around them.
Visit places you usually go other times of year–parks, the beach, gardens–and ask your child to notice what is different in the winter. How does it look, sound and smell in the winter? How do plants look different? What animals can they see or hear?
If you have snow, go for a walk in the snow and ask your child to listen to how snow changes how things sound. Why do they think this happens?
Make time for quiet and routine: Silence, or even quiet, can be hard to come by. During the busy holiday season, prioritizing quiet and everyday routines can help reduce stress. Try to keep your family’s regular routine as much as possible, including family meals.
- Meals are a great time to have conversations with your kids and really listen to their thoughts and ideas. Have everyone at the table say one thing that’s in their head and one thing that’s in their heart–what are you thinking and feeling just now?
- Build in some quiet, screen-free time–even just half an hour on the weekend–where you and your family can draw, write notes or letters, stretch, go for a walk or do another favorite, relaxing activity.
- Read aloud with your child. You can find many wonderful picture books about the season’s holidays and traditions to share with your child. Reading a story together and talking about it is a wonderful way to slow down, be in the moment and connect with your child. As you are reading and afterward, ask your child what they think or how they feel about the story. Listen carefully to their response. It may surprise you.
Give thanks: So much of the holiday season usually directs our focus to buying, going places and getting things. This year, we may all feel sad or disappointed about the traditions we can’t enjoy. Help your child experience the origin of many holiday traditions by practicing gratitude. Get your children thinking about what they are thankful for. Grow Grateful by Jon Lasser and Sage Foster-Lasser explores how we can feel gratitude, even in challenging situations. You’ll Find Me by Amanda Rawson Hill offers tender ways to pay tribute to, and meaningfully incorporate, a loved one’s lost presence into present and future life experiences. Be it absent friends, family, pets, and more, memories can carry us beyond the precious moments we have together to keep the ones we loved before in mind forever.
- As a family, take some time to write notes to people you are thankful for–family, friends, neighbors, community givers, care givers.
- Ask your child to think of some non-toy or -electronic things or experiences they are thankful for. Then together, think of ways to support or those things. Is your child thankful for dogs? What can you do to help dogs? Is your child thankful for music or cookies? How can you share those with others?
- Every so often, at dinner, or driving in the car, ask everyone to name something that they are thankful for. You might be surprised what you hear.
If you’d like to explore other ways to practice mindfulness with your children, take a look at Magination Press’ books about mindfulness, like Relaxations: Big Tools for Little Warriors by Mamen Duch, A World of Pausabilities: An Exercise in Mindfulness by Frank J. Sileo, or Breathe by Inês Castel-Branco.
By slowing down and taking a mindful approach to the holidays with your family, you can add a sense of peace and joy to the season.
Related Books from Magination Press
Accordionly: Abuelo and Opa Make Music
When both grandpas, Abuelo and Opa, visit at the same time, they can’t understand each other’s language and there is a lot of silence. The grandson’s clever thinking helps find a way for everyone to share the day together as two cultures become one family.
This unique book includes a bonus fold-out and a note from the author sharing the true story of his own family.
Breathe is a conversation between a boy and his mother at bedtime. But this conversation can happen at any time, in any place. This introduction to mindfulness presents a collection of illustrated exercises to help little ones become aware of their breath and their body. Includes a Note to Parents & Caregivers that describes the exercises and their effects in more detail.
My name is Kiko. I’m a happy camper! I can grow grateful, too. Let me show you how. Grow Grateful is based in part on an idea called “theory of mind,” the ability to take the perspective of others into account. Most children begin to recognize around age 4-5 that everyone has their own thoughts, feelings, and perspective. Once our capacity to think about these things emerges, we have the ability to feel and express gratitude. Note to Parents by authors.
Kiko grows and cultivates her garden, harvesting and sharing the fruits and veggies with her friends, neighbors, and family. This delightful tale serves as a metaphor of nurturing relationships and community, while sharing kindness with others.
Grow Kind is a gentle narrative based on positive psychology and choice theory, essentially about cultivating kindness.
I See You
I See You is a wordless picture book that depicts a homeless woman who is not seen by everyone around her — except for a little boy.
Over the course of a year, the boy is witness to all that she endures. Ultimately, in a gesture of compassion, the boy acknowledges her in an exchange in which he sees her and she experiences being seen.
This book opens the door for kids and parents to begin a conversation about homelessness.
In a “Note for Parents, Educators, and Neighbors,” there are discussion questions and additional resources about helping the homeless.
My Singing Nana
My Singing Nana is a compassionate tribute to families dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease.
This story celebrates the ideals of family, heritage, and happy memories, showing kids that no matter how their loved one might change they always have ways to maintain their special connection.
Relaxations: Big Tools for Little Warriors
Imagine that your mind is a huge movie screen. It is blank, and you can play whatever movie you’d like. Do you want to be a piece of spaghetti? Or a butterfly? Or perhaps a shooting star that travels through space? Silence, please. The movie will now begin.
What can you hear when you are completely silent? Is that the wind blowing? Birds chirping? Sun shining? World whirling? Maybe a car engine or faraway plane? Maybe kids laughing or playing tag? Be still. Listen. Focus on the now. What do you hear? By paying attention to what is otherwise lost in our noisy world, you can develop your imagination and curiosity and learn a lot more about yourself.
A World of Pausabilities: An Exercise in Mindfulness
Sometimes we just need to take a pause — to stop, breathe, and take a moment for ourselves. To be mindful.
Told in rhyming verse and beautifully illustrated, A World of Pausabilities is an inviting introduction to mindfulness.
Following a neighborhood on a summer day, readers will learn how to apply mindfulness to simple, everyday moments, and how days are filled with endless possibilities to take a pause.
Includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers that further discusses mindfulness and ways to introduce pauses into your child’s life.
You’ll Find Me
Loss becomes remembrance in this book that offers tender ways to pay tribute to, and meaningfully incorporate, a loved one’s lost presence into present and future life experiences. Be it departed friends, family, pets, and more, memories can carry us beyond the precious moments we have together to keep the ones we loved before in mind forever.
Throughout the book the omnipresent narrator encourages thoughtful reflection on the empty spaces left by the loss. The gentle scenes portrayed inspire recovery from sadness and honor those who are absent. This lyrical heartful story provides consent and gently encourage readers to move to a place of peace and acceptance despite the absence.