The news and social media are full of anger, confusion, and uncertainty. We feel this even though our corner of the world is very safe.
The times we live in are full of anxiety. Whether it’s from the news of world events or the stress of school performance for our kids, we can spend our days worrying about more than our brains can successfully process.
As parents we walk a narrow line when the world is full of anxiety and our children need us to help them feel safe. When we are anxious, our children become anxious. It is an unavoidable cycle that is robustly supported by research. When we feel anxiety, it is nearly impossible to feel grateful and peaceful and so, I’d like to chat a bit about ways to make this special time of year brighter and more joyful than fearful.
No matter what your religious, political or cultural beliefs your family will participate in some way in our upcoming holiday season.
This is a time of year when we do our best to be thankful, peaceful and giving. These can be hard to do when life feels so overwhelming, stressful and unfair.
While it can be challenging, I’m going to ask all of us to pause in the hustle bustle of the end of the calendar year to consider what went well for your children, your family and yourself. I’d like us to take a timeout from fixing what’s “wrong,” and instead focus on all of what is going right.
Our brains are designed to overfocus on problems and pain. It’s a survival mechanism to know what threats are out there. But this laser focus on the few things that are broken takes our attention away from the many things that are going well and are beautiful in our world.
Our children have challenges, yes, but they also have gifts and much to be thankful for. And while the world outside is scary, chances are in this moment our lives are safe.
A challenge for we parents is to put down our bag of anxiety and pick up a lighter satchel of mindful peace and hope. The truth is, worrying doesn’t make anything better. In fact, worrying can just make minor problems look too big and it takes energy and focus away from doing something to make life better.
Mindful Peace and Hope
The media knows our brains are hard wired to feel fear before feeling peace. That is why we are bombarded with the bad news and pictures of the bad guys, not the images of people caring, loving, tending and demonstrating empathy and compassion. Peace and hope don’t get clicks or channel views.
So we need to be mindful of our reference points of what is going on in the wider world, as well as what is going on in our little corner of it.
And this isn’t just some call to sentimental denial that there’s scary stuff out there. That scary stuff is there, but our constant focus on it isn’t useful. Our worry is powerless to change anything.
Children are our brightest hope for change. They are mindfulness masters, so in the moment, so aware of the little details of their daily life and surroundings.
But when we overexpose them to fearful media or let our worry outstrip our peace, they are shaken out of their safe place and become agitated and anxious, too.
Mindfully Parenting this Holiday Season
Here are a few ideas of how to be more mindful as you parent in the next month or so:
- Create ritual, routine and tradition. In our family, we use the darker days and longer nights to wind down earlier, look at stars, bake yummy treats together. We create traditions of lighting candles and singing songs. No matter what you celebrate, create and continue traditions. Children need routine and ceremony to feel connected to their families, their ancestry and to feel pride in who they are as part of something bigger and meaningful to a community.
- Admire your children’s strengths. As you parent your children over the next few weeks, look for times to step back and admire them–they are strong, they are persistent, they are kind and patient and insightful (I know this because I get to to know them in my office!). Tell them about their strengths, validate them for how bravely they weather their storms. This demonstrates mindful awareness of who your child is and your peace with how they show up in the world.
- Give everyone time to be quiet. Even the most hyperactive child needs time to slow down and sit with his/her own thoughts for a bit. This may be a family reading time (pull out a holiday classic to read aloud), or unplugged time to play a game, read quietly, draw or build. Our brains cannot process all the data that hits them every day. Meltdowns are a direct result of too much input into the brain. Mindfully slow that input down and create pockets of peace in your home.
- Give to others. Often children who receive so much help and support can begin to feel disempowered and dependent. This can lead to low self-esteem. The reality is our children have a lot to give others who may be less able or less fortunate. When a child is empowered to give their time, sweat equity or presence to others who need their help, they feel important, useful and powerful. Holiday time is a time of giving because it feels good to do for others, as well as receive their good will.
The holiday season can be one of stress and overwhelm or an opportunity to mindfully create peace in our lives. There’s a lot to worry about out there, but if we take the time to look we can see all the good stuff, give thanks for what’s going well and model peace and hope to our children.