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'Tis the season to strengthen families
By Courtney Coufal
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The holiday season can be a great opportunity to bring families closer together as children are out of school and parents take time off from work.
Extra days at home during the holidays can create a natural opportunity for families to spend time together, said Tabitha Staier, family education and policy specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
“The holidays have become so commercialized that it is easy for parents to get wrapped up in the frenzy of shopping, giving gifts, cooking and scheduling. Rather, parents should refocus their energy on strengthening family ties and spending quality time together,” Staier said. Parents can use this time to reconnect with their children by talking with them about their friends, favorite school subjects, career aspirations, and current worries or concerns. Communication is a key component to maintaining strong relationships with children.
“Establishing a strong channel of communication increases the likelihood that children will confide in and depend on their parents for help in difficult times throughout the year,” Staier said.
Participating in activities important to the child is another way to strengthen a parent-child relationship.
“Play their favorite video game, go to the mall or attend a ball game together,” Staier said. “These activities convey that you care about your children and what is important to them.”
There are many activities families can do together during the holidays that cost little or no money and can become family traditions.
“Children benefit from participating in family rituals, which can be any activity that they can expect to happen on a predictable basis. Children should be able to say ‘Every Christmas our family …',” said Joe Wilmoth, assistant professor for MSU Human Development and Family Studies.
Some activities to consider include:
- Plan a family picnic or an inside camp-out. Gather the family by the fireplace and roast hot dogs and marshmallow for s'mores.
- Go sightseeing. Take a driving or walking tour of the town's holiday lights and decorations.
- Play board games. Children feel connected to a parent when time is spent learning about what they enjoy.
- Bake cookies as a family. Give them as gifts to neighbors or other family members.
- Purchase or make inexpensive gifts for underprivileged children.
- Decorate the house for the holidays and trim the tree.
- Make tree ornaments.
- Visit a grandparent or other family members.
- Play a family football game.
- Read “A Christmas Story” or “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Couples also can take advantage of extra time at home to strengthen their marriage. While many parents feel selfish taking time for themselves or their partner during the holidays, doing so can ultimately help them become a better parent, Staier said.
“People in healthy marriages tend to be less stressed, perform better at work, and have less anxiety and depression. Children in healthy two-parent homes tend to perform better socially, academically and cognitively,” she said. “The best gift a couple can give their children during the holidays and throughout the year is to have a healthy and strong relationship.”
While establishing family rituals during the holidays is important, couples can strengthen their relationships by creating their own traditions.
“As a couple, you could attend a Christmas concert or New Year's Eve party together, or do something that the two of you enjoy where you will not be distracted,” Wilmoth said. “Sort through family pictures taken throughout the year, go for walk and show affection through non-sexual touch like hugging, holding hands or cuddling.”
For single parents, the holiday season can offer much needed extra time not available throughout the year.
“Single parents are often stretched thin, between working and caring for their children. The holidays are an excellent opportunity to spend quality time with each other that may not be afforded in a normal week,” Staier said.
Wilmoth added that single parents should not feel pressured to impress their children with exciting events or impressive gifts.
“When a single-parent family is struggling financially, the holidays provide an opportunity to find a project that they can take on to help someone else, like singing at a nursing home or making inexpensive gifts,” Wilmoth said. “This can remind the family that they have something of value to give to someone else, whether it's their time or a talent.”
Regardless of the family dynamics, the holidays can present many opportunities for families to bond and to reflect together on the true meaning of the season.
“When your children are adults, what they remember most will not likely be the expensive presents you bought but the fun, spontaneous activities they shared with their family,” Wilmoth said.