How Christmas Traditions Build Happier Kids

how christmas helps kids

Early tomorrow morning, after a late night of packing, hubby and I will bundle our two boys, the Christmas presents, food and grog, beach gear and a heap of other stuff into the car and head north to his sister's place in NSW. We're ALL looking forward to it (the holiday, not the late night). Hubby loves the drive. I love that on arrival my beautiful sister-in-law (one of my many beautiful sisters-in-law) will pour me a champagne and I can relax. Mr 3 just wants to be together with Mummy, Daddy and his big brother for a holiday and Mr 6 is hanging out for Aunty Jane's pool, the beach and some big cousin fun.

Family Christmas and a week by the beach with extended family are events that we talk about ALL year.  We discuss what we'll do and who'll be there and which beach or pool toys we should take and how much fun it will be.  We anticipate the planning and catering and the Kris Kringle lists.  We know what will happen and that's half the fun.  It's our family Christmas ritual.

Christmas is tradition-central for most families, irrespective of religious belief.  Decorating the tree, putting up lights, visiting family, baking, carols, advent calendars; they are all life's pattern at this time of year. Every family has their Christmas and holiday routines, some odd, some heartfelt and some so old that their origin is lost in time. 

Kids in particular really dig these routines and traditions. Mr 6 has moved the candy cane on our Christmas calendar every day without fail and double checks with me several times a day that he's got the day right and hasn't accidentally missed a day. Every day we count down the number of sleeps until Christmas, noting the day we'll head north and any other events between.

All kids love routine, traditions and rituals and this is why: 

1. They learn what's important to their family.  Whether it's spending time with grandparents and extended family, food preparation, attending church, or just hanging out with special people in their lives, it sends the message that these things are important to their family and that they are part of a special group.  It helps form their sense of identity.  This is who I am, where I belong and what we do.

2. It makes them feel safe. They know what's coming, how things roll.  Having a routine and participating in rituals gives them a sense of security that can reduce anxiety about the new or unexpected.  This gives them freedom to explore and have fun and that's what holidays are about.

3. The planning and preparation is important.  When we spend time decorating, wrapping, cooking and creating we are showing our kids that these are things into which we invest our time and effort.  Some studies have shown that planning and preparing as a family is associated with well-adjusted kids. 

4. It connects generations and builds stronger family bonds. We re-live and re-experience positive emotions when we talk about holidays past.  The happy builds more happy.

Of course Christmas is not a positive time for everyone and not every family gets along. That doesn't preclude anyone from the benefits of tradition and ritual. Australia Day barbecues with friends, special birthday celebrations and even Friday night pizza and a movie on the couch can be a familiar, comfortable and happy ritual that builds bond and forges a safe world for your kids.   

So, on days like today, when I feel like there's too much to do and I don't want to pack the bags or make gingerbread or put the decorations back on the tree for the hundredth time, I remember that these little things are important to the small people in my life.  I'm helping to create memories and happy feelings about family and Christmas that will hopefully stick with them until it's their turn to do the work.

Merry Christmas and....