With the festive season fast approaching, it’s incredibly important for parents to give themselves the time and space to prepare for the upcoming challenges.
For adults, the holiday season can be incredibly overwhelming. We are exposed to a constant stream of advertising, our communities and homes are dressed up in the brightest, boldest colors and the palpable sense of excitement can be exhausting to manage. Add in the self-imposed pressure to produce a perfect, memorable holiday for our family and friends, it’s easy to see why the festive season can be extremely challenging to navigate.
For children, this sensory overload and persistent emotional rollercoaster are exceptionally potent — and with none of the experience, life skills or coping mechanisms that come with adulthood, it inevitably manifests in problematic and uncharacteristic behavior – which only intensifies when their emotional role model (you) is also struggling.
How To Be a Mindful Role Model During the Holidays
Children learn from what they see. The hundreds of tiny verbal and non-verbal cues that you as a parent display, shape their understanding of the world that they inhabit. How we as parents react to situations, deal with challenges and set our priorities have enormous resonance on the development and the world view of our children.
- Take the time to live in the moment together. It’s easy to be swept along by the holidays. Rushing from one event to another, ticking off your to-do lists, decorating, present-buying — the list goes on and on. The danger is that by trying to fit everything in, we lose sight of each other and miss out on taking the time to be truly present with our children. It’s important to stop, breathe and mindfully share time with your children — free from distractions or stress.
- Have a release valve. Overwhelming does not just affect younger children, adolescents are just as susceptible and without the emotional awareness to recognize what’s happening, it’s important to put in place a strategy that can help alleviate the issue before it grows. Practicing meditation with your children gives them, and you, a safe, quiet and uninterrupted time to focus on themselves and release tension.
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It’s not a great revelation that the festive period has become almost entirely driven by consumerism. We are cajoled into buying more and spending more, with little thought or care. The bombardment of adverts and the constant narrative of consumption is incredibly harmful to developing minds, presenting a warped, materialistic view of the world.
Children are expected to navigate through this commercialized version of the world with little context or help to make sense of it all. The commercialization of children’s childhood has been linked to increased rates of obesity, an increase in anxiety and depression and has a marked negative effect on impulse control — all of which are carried into adulthood.
The American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Advertising and Children’s report found that children under the age of 4-5 years could not distinguish between commercials and programming and that those under the age of 7-8 years could not recognize the persuasive intent of commercials. Of the $12 billion spent annually by advertisers directly targeting children, a growing percentage of that budget has been directed toward digital advertising, further increasing the pervasiveness of adverts in our children’s lives.
Obviously, it’s not practical, or advisable, to try to remove adverts from our children’s lives — in fact, providing them with an alternative perspective and thought process can give them the skills to navigate over-commercialization into adolescence and adulthood.
Rather than ticking off a list, mindfully putting thought into who you are giving to, what you are giving, why you are giving it and how it might make them feel is incredibly powerful. Involving your children in this process and making them really think about what a recipient would get the most from is not only incredibly useful in protecting them from the incessant consumerism of the season, but it allows them to think mindfully about relatives and form a much deeper understanding of the person behind the title of an aunt, grandfather, cousin, etc. and their needs and wants.
Beyond the Holidays
A 2018 study published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry concluded that children thrived by being exposed to mindfulness techniques, improving their overall mental health, well-being and happiness in later life. Our children face pressures that were either in their infancy or simply didn’t exist during our childhoods, so helping them find coping mechanisms and strategies is a vital part of modern parenting.
Anthony Cupo is a trained mindfulness facilitator (TMF) from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is a co-owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC, and has been meditating for over 30 years.