How to Get Closer and De-Stress: 7 Family Tips for the Holidays

Mindfulness is a powerful way to help kids of all ages manage their emotions, reduce stress, focus more easily, and even develop greater empathy. Practicing mindfulness as a family will not only help you connect more deeply this holiday season, but also set the tone for a great year to come.
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Let's face it -- holidays can be stressful. Schedules are out the window, large family gatherings can be intense and there is often more attention on getting external stuff rather than finding a peaceful place within. Mindfulness is a powerful way to help kids of all ages manage their emotions, reduce stress, focus more easily, and even develop greater empathy. Practicing mindfulness as a family will not only help you connect more deeply this holiday season, but also set the tone for a great year to come. Here are seven easy ways to get started:

1. Mindfulness Around the Table
Everyone knows how good it feels to express gratitude at the Thanksgiving table. It opens the heart, connects us to family and friends and plants the seeds for a memorable experience. What if you could do this once a week? Schedule a time where everyone in the family talks about what they are grateful for in their life and something they appreciate about others at the table. This is all about being in the moment and taking time to notice the good stuff (there's always good stuff!). It will uplift everyone there.

2. Take on a Family Mindfulness Challenge.
Mindfulness means paying attention to the moment without judgment, and intentionally pausing before reacting. When parents model mindfulness, kids get it on a whole new level. So, during the hectic pace of the holidays, it's especially valuable to practice together. Challenge everyone to tap into inner power. Sit with spine straight but not tense, and feel their bodies on the chair or floor. Closing the eyes will help open the other senses. Mindful listening (ring a chime and listen till there is complete silence) or a simple minute of mindful breathing are great ways to begin.

3. Peace Before You Sleep
Just like athletes schedule practice sessions to improve their skills, having a designated mindfulness time helps make it a go-to habit. During the holidays, schedules can change often and unexpectedly. Because days are dynamic, before bed is a great time to practice mindfulness; it will relax everyone into a more peaceful state. Some families use a special chime to take turns bringing everyone together.

4. Add Mindfulness Into Your Mornings
Getting the day started and out the door on any given day is busy. Schedules during the holidays can be more so. Consider ways to de-stress, like waking up a little earlier for some adult quiet time, or getting kids to pitch in later in the day. Encourage children to help (as they can) with picking up, food prep or even helping put together their school lunches the night before.
Dr. Christine Carter of Greater Good Science Center prepares for the morning rush by placing sticky notes on her fridge. They are reminders to NOTICE your own emotions, NAME the emotion (like feeling tense), ACCEPT what is going on, and BREATHE (pausing to take a few deep breaths) before jumping into action.

5. Mindful Boundaries
Having established boundaries promotes a feeling of consistency and safety. They provide a perimeter, within which children can exercise their autonomy. If the boundaries are intentionally thought out in advance, before holiday excitement/chaos, then there is less reason for a parent to constantly say no. It's equally important to create situations where your child can experience autonomy (e.g.,"You can be the leader on the hike.") In Mindful Discipline, Dr. Shauna Shapiro makes the case that children need both boundaries and autonomy.

6. Mindful Discipline
There's no getting around it -- discipline is part of parenting. Why not address it mindfully? Especially as stresses rise during the holidays, if you see discipline as teaching, rather than confrontation, the first step is taking a breath and pausing enough to be aware of what your child is feeling. In No-Drama Discipline, Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Bryson suggest:
• Communicate Comfort -- so the child feels safe to open up
• Validate -- say something like, "If I were in your shoes, at the same age, I might feel the same way."
• Listen -- rather than lecture (breathe!)
• Reflect -- reflect back what you hear
• Redirect -- After you understand what was happening internally to your child, you can determine what you want to teach and how best to do it.

7. Share Your Experiences
The more you and your child practice mindfulness, the more natural it becomes. You will draw on it in all aspects of life. If you used mindfulness when you felt your emotions rising (in traffic, in the mall, at the office, with friends), and you were able to pause before reacting, share that experience with your child. For a happier and more connected feeling, encourage her/him to do the same. Whether during the holidays or in the year to come, you will inspire one another in ways you might not even imagine.

Here are more resources on bringing happiness and mindfulness to kids.

The good news is that no matter your age, or how intense life may seem, you can reconnect with yourself and others from a more peaceful place. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, "Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have... happiness comes."

What is your go-to strategy to get closer and de-stress?

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