At two, my child isn't old enough to understand the full extent of Christmas yet, colourful cards keep falling through the door and we’ve brought a tree inside!? I saw something that saddened me about the encroaching Christmas period the other day. It made me realise that increasingly what children learn about Christmas is that it’s an opportunity for ‘getting’, a commercial event that only serves to make money not to enrichen their lives.
I was queuing in the supermarket when I heard two women chatting. One lady, who had her child with her, was telling her friend on the checkout how every time the adverts came on the tv her daughter pulled her in from the kitchen so she knew exactly what she wanted for Christmas. Apparently she wanted everything! You can certainly sympathise with the mother. The message certainly seems to be that the amount of gifts we give our children is a measure of our love for them.
Of course we want to share gifts to show our appreciation and love but this is only one aspect of what we experience at Christmas. How can we help children to experience a more emotionally healthy Christmas?
Well, on our holiday camps mindfulness is something that we try to practice regularly, usually in terms of building an awareness of nature, connecting with and relating to it. Of course to a primary school aged child the concept is perhaps a little abstract. Put simply, mindfulness is awareness. It is noticing our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and anything that is around us and happening right now.
Thinking back to that child and the approaching Christmas period, it feels this time of year is the perfect time to practice a little mindfulness at home. To nurture an atmosphere of gratitude rather than expectancy from our children. Teaching them to appreciate for many what is a life of great abundance, from the food they eat to the toys and games they have been given already. It feels now more than ever that this gift is crucial in order to fight the wave of consumerism that permeates from everywhere and seeps into the playground, our living rooms and our psyche. With all this in mind here are some helpful ideas to encourage mindfulness in your child this Christmas. Rather than sitting a child down for a ‘lesson in mindfulness’ incorporate some of its philosophies into fun, hands on activities to keep them engaged and illustrate the ethos in a more accessible way.
Going outside to collect natural materials to use for these crafts not only gives your child a reason to be closer to nature but also means that each craft has a special experience connected to it with that family member.
Mindful of Animals
Children often find it easier to relate to the lives of animals than adults. Explaining that animals can often run out of food through the winter and suffer in the cold can be a useful way to develop empathy in your child. With that in mind, craft a birdfeeder or seed bomb to hang in the garden or leave a bucket of water for animals such as hedgehogs to feed from on a cold night.
Make a game together instead of buying one. Then give it to someone in the family as their present
Think of a classic indoor game. For example, make your own memory game using natural objects from a walk in the park or peebles from the beach or the Thames to make noughts and crosess with acrylic paint.
You might think that they don't compare to the latest XBOX offerings but these games have lasted the test of time and are simple but catchy. Remember children do need to learn the rules properly but once they do these games are a great tool for family bonding.
Deck the halls
Decorating the house and readying for Christmas festivities can be stressful. Involving your children in the process not only keeps them busy but makes them more aware of just how much work you as a parent put in. Sit down and ask them to make a list of the things they think are needed to be done before Christmas Eve. Compare the chores and let them notice just how much work goes into preparing a feast or decorating the house. Divide some of the jobs and even if they aren't a big help they will feel like they've contributed.
All of these activities might seem impossibly difficult to pull off while we rush from day to day but these moments of mindfulness and togetherness are what makes this time of year special.
Written by Justin Baker
Justin Baker is the co-founder of First Hand Experiences. They run nature based holiday camps and clubs that celebrate the natural world through the arts,whole food and outdoor adventure. Their upcoming Christmas camp’s programme ‘A Handmade Christmas’ can be viewed here.