How to Celebrate the Small Things

There’s no doubt that 2020’s holiday season will look different than in years past. Not only are we doing our best to stay healthy during a global pandemic, we’re also dealing with all of COVID-19’s cascading effects. The good news is—this is the time to reset your creativity, positivity, and gratitude “buttons.” It’s more important than ever this year to appreciate the small things in life that make it magical.

Create a safe space for emotions

Though we don’t want to be hyperfocused on what we’re missing out on this year, it’s equally important not to pretend everything is okay and normal. Nurture a psychologically-safe environment at home. Remind your kids that it’s okay to feel their feelings and create a non-judgmental space where they feel free to come to you for support. Help them learn to cope with disappointment and sadness by encouraging them to talk it out—then validate their feelings, give them time and space to acknowledge them, and then shift their energy to something else—put on some fun music, dig through the costume box, or play a game. Help them transition from a negative mindset into a positive one.

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Find and focus on the upside

Do you usually travel over the holidays? If so, embrace the extra time you now have at home to connect as a family in ways you normally wouldn’t be able to. Involve your kids in the planning—ask them what they’re loving about being home more and what they’d like to do during their break from school. If dressing in “fancier” clothes for holiday dinner or family photos is normally a request your children detest, maybe this year allow them to wear whatever they want—or have a holiday costume theme!

Invent new traditions

As some family traditions may not be possible this year, involve your children in creating new ones. Make sure they can easily transition with you into future years. Test out a baking recipe that you normally wouldn’t have, make holiday decorations or crafts, or pick a movie loved by all to watch every year. Don’t forget to honour your pre-existing traditions too, but in new ways. Putting a fun spin on them brings a sense of familiarity and normality into the season.

Plan ahead

Though it may seem counterintuitive to plan ahead when you might not actually be going anywhere or hosting anyone, remember that the holiday season can get stressful—fast. Even if you’re not travelling across the country, you still need to set your family up for success. Chances are, you’ll spend more time indoors at home together than you’re used to in years past so make sure to have a list of ready-to-go activities for the younger members of your family. No one likes hearing the dreaded, “I’m bored!”

If you’re planning on making a special meal for your holiday celebration, plan these in advance and involve the littles. Engage them in the planning, shopping, and execution—a well-planned meal will be much more enjoyable for everyone than one that wasn’t. This is a better year than ever to let your kids have fun and experiment with you in the kitchen when perhaps the timing isn’t as important.

Get outside as much as you can

Here on Vancouver Island we’re pretty lucky not to have the harsh winters much of our country experiences each year. Don’t take those sunny, crisp winter days for granted—encourage your kids to run around and play while you sip a much-needed cozy drink. If you do live in a colder climate, take extra care to be outdoors when you can—if possible, invest in warmer clothing and outdoor play gear. If we’re lucky enough to get some snow, find a sledding hill or throw around snowballs as a family. Use whatever opportunities you can to incorporate joy, physical activity, and fresh air into your days.

Don’t abandon your healthy habits

During the holiday season it can feel like there are no rules. Parents tend to be lenient with themselves and their kids around this time, but coupled with an unpredictable global pandemic, overindulging and neglecting your healthy habits is a slippery slope. Stick to the routines that nourish your mind and body, balancing relaxation with indulging in moderation.

Nurture your own relationships

In a full household, quality time on your own may be harder to come by this winter. Schedule in and commit to your alone time—this might just be before the kids wake or after they go to bed. As a parent, making sure you’re getting time to do what you want and need to do is essential for creating a positive holiday experience for everyone. On the other hand, if you’re a single co-parent, reach out to other loved ones if you start to feel lonely or isolated on days your kids are with their other parent.

If you have a partner, ensure you’re scheduling one-on-one time with them. Regular and dedicated quality time with your household co-pilot is just as important for nurturing a happy, loving home. It’s no secret that we often unintentionally take out our stress on our partners, making it even more essential to reconnect on a regular basis. This could look like phone-free time together after the kids go to bed, or aligning their screen time with your morning coffee together.

Go with the flow

Rule number one for this holiday season: be flexible. Celebrations aren’t going to look the same as last year—and that’s okay. Maybe this year, our festivities include a virtual baking party with Grandma, or an ongoing messaging thread with extended family sharing photos of your smaller celebrations. Just because we’re physically apart doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy quality time together. Adjust your expectations as needed to stay realistic and avoid further disappointments during an already difficult time.

Finally, be gentle and understanding with yourself and your family members. While there are many positives to smaller activities, our world is also coping with immense stress and trauma. Give yourself and others grace during this time and remember that some things you simply cannot control. Focus on the positive and what’s most important—quality time with your loved ones (whether it’s virtual or from a safe distance).

Dr. Jillian Roberts
Dr. Jillian Roberts
Dr. Jillian Roberts is a child psychologist, UVic professor and mother. She is the CEO & Founder of FamilySparks and the author of Kids, Sex and Screens: Raising Strong, Resilient Children in the Sexualized Digital Age.