I’ve been thinking that sometimes the holidays are just too much. Too much noise, too much sugar, too much family, too much “stuff.”
The holiday period is a monthlong marathon of countdowns and merchandizing. We often allow external pressures to define what makes a perfect celebration. We try to fit in one more classic TV show or bake one more special dessert or go to one more holiday event — quick, whip out the phones for a picture. Making memories makes us so busy!
There is also internal pressure. For instance, I am nostalgic this time of year, and I want our children to grow to be nostalgic for the same things I am — for holidays to mean the same to them as they do to me.
But I grew up three hours from Canada and now live five hours from Mexico. My children’s perspective of a “winter holiday” is very different from mine. I try to cram visions of snowbanks, sledding and hot chocolate into my southern children’s heads while they wear T-shirts and flip-flops, and shiver in the dairy aisle.
This year, we need to keep it simple and fight the “too much” of the holiday season. Doing so will help ensure that your kids will actually make meaningful and lasting memories.
What will children actually remember about the holidays over time? Studies from psychology and neuroscience largely confirm what most parents have probably noticed: Your memories aren’t really about the “stuff.” The toys and gadgets, even those most desired, will gather dust before long.
Memories are strongest with repetition and when connected to the people we love — as adults, children will remember their family traditions. Children have no framework for what a particular holiday means until we, or the media, tell them. It is a remarkable opportunity to celebrate the simple.
The biggest gift we can give children is our time — time without a phone, tablet or TV at hand. Our modern world is constantly pinging us and our children with tweets, texts, reminders and updates. Studies show that everyone talks less with the TV on, even if it isn’t being watched. Let’s quiet it all down, just for a few hours a day.
What can you do without the media? Here is a chance to make the memories your kids will remember.
Slip in activities and games that you remember from your childhood. Volunteer as a family to help the children create memories of giving and helping others who, instead of having too much, have too little. If you run out of ideas, ask your children for theirs, and give them a try, no matter how silly.
My 7-year-old asked to have us draw a picture for each other as a gift. To keep it moving (bedtime was coming), I added structure — themes and a three-minute time limit — and we created “gift-pictionary.” It was surprisingly fun for all of us, and we created decorations to boot.
Remember, too, that children of all ages do better with schedules, time to themselves, and fresh air and exercise. Two weeks off of school can drive even the most angelic family batty if you also take two weeks off of the family routine.
Keep bedtimes when you can, and slip a veggie plate into that sugar smorgasbord. Keeping it simple also means saying “no” to some of the events, “no” to some of the extra expenses, and “yes” to some of the regular things that keep your family in balance.
If the holidays are still “too much” or things do not go as planned, try not to get frustrated. Shift your perspective. Mishaps today will be the family jokes and stories of the future. Those often can be the best memories of all.
Jessica Church-Lang is an assistant professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.
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