The Holiday Season is a busy one and it leaves many of us stressed out, overtired and feeling a little under the weather. Below you will find lots of ways that you and your family can focus on self-care this holiday season. It is important to remember to care for ourselves so that our personal lights will shine bright and then we can care for others.
Set up a family game night
Put on some fun music and have a family dance party
Drink your water (at least 1/2 your body weight in ounces)
Eat vegetables every day
Move your body for at least 30 minutes
Put on a family movie and snuggle up on the couch together
Put on an audio book and draw or color as you listen to the story
I am one of those SUPER ANNOYING people who is hyper organized when it comes to Christmas. I am a complete mess when it comes to organizing my closets, my car or other important things but I’ve got it together when it comes to Christmas.
I use the month of November to shop, decorate, wrap and complete my holiday cards. The theory is that if I get the work done in November, I will be all calm and relaxed in December. The vision of being curled up by a fire, watching Hallmark channel while snuggling with my family, helps me to get through my CRAZY November. The truth is that my December never looks like the vision I have in my head (my family hates Hallmark ;)). I ALWAYS find more to do and cram our schedule so full that there is little time to breathe.
Last year was a perfect example of this. I scheduled so many service opportunities for my family, that we were left EXHAUSTED by the time Christmas came around. I thought that if I shared the idea on my Kids in Service website, then I should be out there doing it! We practically took on a part time job at the Salvation Army ringing bells once a week for a two hour shift, we volunteered twice at the Food Bank, served lunch to the homeless in the park, shopped for children in need, did the Reverse Advent Calendar, delivered our Christmas jar, baked cookies for the postal employees, visited a woman’s rehabilitation home, gave out a dozen seeds of kindness, Jingled 8 families (EIGHT?!?!), visited the local nursing home and tried to complete EVERY DAY on our Kindness Calendar. It was a rollercoaster of a month with so many emotions. We were TIRED, INSPIRED, STRESSED OUT, JOYFUL and by the end my kids started to resent it all and would groan when it was time to go.
One morning, as I sternly told my children to SMILE while we were ringing bells in the frigid cold, I had an out of body experience. What was I doing? Was I being as kind to my children as I was to the strangers who put change in the red bucket? Was this manic pace of helping others, hurting us? We were running from one project to the next, all while trying to fit in homeschool, chores, making homemade gifts and Christmas fun. That is when I admitted to myself it was too much.
This December already looks a lot different in our house. We decided on a few favorite service projects (many of them simple) to complete over the course of the month and have had to say no to many others. We have also cut way back on our homemade gifts. Instead we are playing daily board games, reading holiday stories together and trying to save some whitespace in our crazy calendar.
Why am I sharing this story? I want to encourage YOU (or anyone who is still reading at this point) to pick only ONE act of kindness to do as a family this holiday. Pick just one! I know there are so many options this time of year but our calendars are also way more hectic. Save those service projects for other times of year when you have more time and space to devote to them. The food bank needs help ALL year long and the nursing home residents need cheering up more in March than they do now with all of the carol groups coming through.
Pick ONE thing and it can be a simple thing. Maybe you buy some $5 gift cards to a local coffee shop to spread them around to people who could use a little cheer. Or pick one tag off of the giving tree, bake cookies for a neighbor or pick one of our other holiday kindness ideas. Whatever you pick, talk it over as a family and make sure that the activity does not add any more stress to the season. It is important to remember self-care for EVERYONE in your home this holiday. If you are not taking care of yourselves, then you will not be able take care of others.
The only way you can be a LIGHT this holiday season is to take care of yourself.
Once again we will be working on some good deeds for friends and family members and leaving a note that they’ve been “Jingled by the Kindness Elves”. My kids love leaving some treats on the doorstep of the people we care about without them knowing. It is hard to be stealth and last year all but one of the recipients ended up finding out it was us. This year the kids are working on ways to be sneakier!
2. Kindness Calendar
This FREE Kindness Calendar from Action for Happiness gives you a daily suggestion for how to spread Kindness in December. My kids and I have used this for the last two years as inspiration for good deeds to do throughout the holiday season. We do NOT do every task, December is too busy for that. We merely read the prompt for the day and if it something that we can easily accomplish in the next few days, we will do so. This calendar is meant to be fun and not cause extra stress!
3. Donate Food and Hygiene Items
Food banks and shelters depend on people’s generosity at this time of year and hope for lots of donations to fill their shelves. Make sure all of the food that you donate is non-perishable and has not expired. They are always in need of hygiene items too (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, feminine products, diapers, toothpaste etc.) . This Reverse Advent Calendar from Passionate Penny Pincher is a hands-on way for kids to be mindful about donating food this holiday season.
4. Feast for the Animals
One of our favorite traditions this time of year is to decorate an outdoor tree with edible treats for the birds, squirrels, deer and chipmunks that live in and around our backyard. We usually do this on Winter Solstice and read the book Night Tree by Eve Bunting before we head out to decorate. Some years we have taken a lot of time with this project and made our own suet and bird seed ornaments. Other years we buy suet, sunflower seeds and hang an extra bird feeder. This is also a great opportunity to clean out your vegetable drawer. Bring out old carrots, celery and other greens for the animals to enjoy.
5.Make Holiday Cards for those in Need
Grab the paper, markers and other art supplies for this family project. Work together as a family to make holiday cards that you can pass on to people who need a little bit of cheer and encouragement this season. Do you know someone who lost a loved one or someone who is battling an illness? I am sure they would appreciate a homemade card from your family. Send the cards to the local soup kitchen or homeless shelter to be passed out to their guests. Cheer up seniors at the nursing home or a send the cards to Meals on Wheels.
6. Spread Seeds of Kindness–Holiday Edition
This has to be our family’s FAVORITE way to spread kindness during the holidays (and all year long) and it is soooo EASY. We go out and buy a bunch of $1 scratch tickets or $5 gift cards (for coffee shops or fast food restaurants) and hand then out throughout the holiday season. Was the cashier extra friendly at checkout? Hand them a gift card and say “Happy Holidays and thanks for being YOU!” You can spread seeds of kindness to the person working at the tollbooth (we still have people who work the tolls in New England), the person who works at your transfer station, your dry cleaner, the mom who looks stressed in the store, a homeless person…anybody is game for a little kindness this holiday. A nice touch is wrapping the gift card or scratch tickets in a drawing from your children. Click HERE for more information about Seeds of Kindness.
7. Donate Toys and Gifts
There are lots of worthy charities that will accept brand new toy and gift donations at this time of year. Our library has a giving tree where you can take a mitten off the tree and buy a present for a boy or girl in need. Contact your local school nurse or guidance counselor to see if there is a family who needs help during the holidays. Contact the local Foster Child Agency and see if they are in need of toys for the children they serve.
8. Volunteer Time
Do you have some free time this month to volunteer? Our family likes to spend one Saturday morning in December volunteering in the Food Bank. We dress in festive clothing, sing carols on our way and go out to breakfast when we are all finished. It is a nice tradition that we look forward to each year. If you have time to volunteer, contact your local food bank, pet shelter, hospice house, soup kitchen, nursing home or homeless shelter to see if they are looking for volunteers this season. The Salvation Army is always in need of volunteers for their Red Kettle drive during November and December. Many places will accept the help of younger children (ages 5 and up) if there is an adult present.
9. Go Caroling at a Nursing Home
Make some simple song books (most holiday lyrics can be found on the internet), gather together some family and friends and schedule a time to visit your local nursing home. Dress in festive clothing and wander the halls singing carols for all to hear. Perhaps you might bring along some holiday cards or homemade ornaments to pass out to the seniors as you wander. This activity will be one that you will always remember.
We use December as a way to learn about and honor all of the winter holidays celebrated around the world. We have good friends who are Jewish and we are blessed to have spent many nights of Hanukkah with them over the years. The latkes they make are fantastic (both sweet and white potato) and watching them light the candles while saying the blessing is so beautiful.
A former student gave me a menorah for my classroom and it is the menorah I still have today. My children and I read a Hanukkah story during each of the eight nights, discuss the symbolism of the candles play dreidel and pray for our family and friends on earth and in heaven.
This year Hanukkah begins on December 22nd and the last night is Monday, December 30th. Coffee and Carpool has some great kindness activities for Hanukkah on her blog. Here are some of our favorite Hanukkah books to read during the eight nights.
This is our FAVORITE Hanukkah story but it can be a bit frightening for young children. This is a story about a traveler who comes upon a small village where they are not celebrating Hanukkah because goblins have taken over the synagogue. The traveler sets out to defeat the goblins using his wit. A wonderful story about staying strong, being brave and standing up for what you believe in. I think this book is wonderful for children ages 6 and up. Maybe younger if your child is okay with the ideas of monsters.
Every year I find a new holiday book that touches my heart and for 2019, it was Gracie’s Night. This is so much more than a book about Hanukkah. This is a book about kindness, love, giving and thinking of others. I LOVED this book and feel EVERY child (person for that matter) should hear it. I recommend it for ages 4 and up. From the Publisher: “THERE’S LOTS OF LOVE in Gracie’s and Papa’s lives, but not much money. Gracie finds a resourceful way to buy Papa some well-deserved Hanukkah gifts, but an encounter on a bitterly cold night opens her eyes and alters her plans. When we are brave enough to reach out instead of looking away, each of us can bring someone a miracle.”
My kids love this Hanukkah story and it is one we own and read year after year. From the Publisher: “Sadie and her four little brothers are very poor and always hungry. On the first night of Chanukah, Sadie performs a generous act, and in turn receives a frying pan that cooks up sizzling hot, golden latkes on command. Sadie tells her brothers never to use the magic pan, but when she goes out one afternoon, the mischievous boys can’t resist. They remember the words to start the pan cooking . . . but what were the words to make it stop?”
From the publisher: “A refugee seeking sanctuary from the horrors of Kristallnacht, Oskar arrives by ship in New York City with only a photograph and an address for an aunt he has never met. It is both the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. As Oskar walks the length of Manhattan, from the Battery to his new home in the north of the city, he passes experiences the city’s many holiday sights, and encounters it various residents. Each offers Oskar a small act of kindness, welcoming him to the city and helping him on his way to a new life in the new world. This is a heartwarming, timeless picture book.”
This is a great book to teach the story of Hanukkah and why it is celebrated. Children as young as 4 can hear this story and learn about the miracle long ago that is celebrated during Hanukkah. From the Publisher: “Hanukkah is a wonderful time filled with games, food, family, and fun. It’s also the celebration of an ancient miracle, and retelling and remembering the story of that miracle is an essential part of the holiday, for young and old. The story of the courageous Maccabees is retold in simple yet dramatic text, accompanied by vibrant paintings of the battle, the Temple of Jerusalem, and the oil which miraculously burned for eight long nights.”
Advent is a season of waiting. This season can be so much more meaningful for families when you focus on kindness, love and the true meaning of Christmas. I wanted to share with you a few ideas/resources that we have put into place for over the years during Advent and would love to hear any ideas or traditions that you may have as well.
We participated in the Reverse Advent Calendar, from Passionate Penny Pincher, last December for the first time. The idea is simple and a great visual for young kids. Find a big box and each day of advent put in the assigned food item. Once your box is filled with 24 items, donate them that to your local food bank. Food banks receive so much help in November and December and often struggle in January and February. This will box will be a much needed donation and something you can drop off as a family.
My kids each had a box last year and took a lot of time and care decorating their cardboard boxes. We shopped as a family for the entire list before December 1st and stored all of the food in the basement. Each day the kids would head to the basement and “shop” for the item of the day. They were so excited when the boxes were filled and we took them to the local food bank. This is a wonderful way to help your kids focus on others this holiday season.
Click HERE for your copy of the Reverse Advent Calendar.
This FREE Kindness Calendar from Action for Happiness gives you a daily suggestion for how to spread Kindness. My kids and I have used this for the last two years as inspiration for good deeds to do throughout the holiday season.
This is my FAVORITE gift of Christmas and makes my December mornings so special. You can read about the sweet Advent Calendar I request from my children each year HERE.
4. Book Count Down
This was one of my favorite ways to count down to Christmas when my children were little. For this countdown, you wrap up 24 holiday books and place them in a basket. These books can be books you own mixed in with library books and maybe a new book here or there. Label each book with a number and then each day, your kids open up a book and you read it together as a family.
I know 24 books can seem daunting but you can add in Winter books, Hanukkah books or anything that would be fun to read during the holidays. If you are wrapping library books, make sure you put those early in the count so that you don’t get into trouble with overdo fines!
I wish these little guys were around when my oldest was young. If your children are planning to ask Santa for some elves to visit you this Holiday Season, you may want to consider these cuties. The Kindness Elves spread joy and happiness and leave your children daily notes with suggestions of Acts of Kindness that they can partake in. Such a sweet way to encourage your children to spend the Advent Season doing kind deeds.
We have been a sparkle family since the beginning in 2010. David Sewell McCann has a tremendous gift for story telling and the Sparkle Stories are WONDERFUL for children ages 3 and up (although my daughter has been listening since she was one). They have stories for every season, stories that teach valuable lessons, stories for grief….they are an incredible resource.
The holiday season is a very special time at Sparkle Stories and they now have 3 audio Advent Calendars. We LOVE the Martin and Sylvia Advent Calendar that follow a brother and sister through the 24 days leading up to Christmas and their search for yellow Advent Cards. The Junkyard Advent is a precious story about a community of animals that live in a junkyard trying to make a wonderful Christmas for the Warden of the junkyard. This year they have a new Advent Audio Calendar called Libby and Dish’s Good-Deed-a-Day Club and we are soooooo excited.
I highly recommend you check out the magic that is Sparkle Stories. You can sign up for a 7 day trial to try them out for FREE (this is not an ad, we just love Sparkle Stories that much). It is fun to listen to them in the car as you are driving around or you can snuggle up on the couch and listen together. Sparkle stories are a great way to remember to slow down for 20 minutes each day and listen to a beautiful and inspirational story together.
I wish this had been around when my kids were little. I do know other families that do a version of this without this kit. The kit is adorable and a great visual for younger children to watch their kind deeds build up a sweet bed for Baby Jesus. It is a nice way to help younger children focus on the spirit of giving, kindness, love and the meaning of the season.
I did this for a few years with my children when they were small and we LOVED it. It was a great way to teach the story of the birth of Jesus in language that is easy for children to understand. There is a simple craft to make for each day or you can get the printable ornaments to color instead. I recommend it for children 3-6 but older children would enjoy doing it along with their younger siblings. It is another great Advent resource for little ears to get them ready for the coming of the baby Jesus.
What are your Advent Traditions? Please share in the comments below.
Don’t know what to do with all of your children’s beautiful art work? Do the grandkids keep sending you masterpieces and you are running out of fridge space? Please consider sending it to be repurposed in our new Kids in Service Recycled Art Program. We will be taking the art and transforming it into cards for the homeless, cards for the military, Meals on Wheels placemats, cards for hospice patients and so much more.
Please collect their masterpieces and pass them on to Kids in Service for our members to repurpose. You can mail your recycled art to us at:
For the past 10 years, my children have traded their Halloween Candy for a $10-$12 toy of their choice. I know what you are thinking, “You take ALL of their candy, you are so cruel!” To be clear I don’t TAKE anything, it is a TRADE that they agree to make. I also allow them to eat some candy on Halloween and save 5 pieces for consumption the week after Halloween. This has worked well for us and their dentist approves!
The candy the kids trade in is sent to work with my husband. His employees LOVE the variety and it is usually all gone in 1-2 days!
Last year, while packing Thanksgiving food baskets at our local food bank, I was surprised to see that Halloween candy was one of the items included. “We like to put in a little fun for the kids,” the organizer told me. I knew right then that next years Halloween candy would go to the food bank for the Thanksgiving baskets.
There are many great places to donate Halloween Candy, a quick internet search will bring up many options in your area. I am asking you to consider your local food bank, call them and see if they would like a donation for their Thanksgiving baskets. Happy Halloween!!
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, empathy is:
the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.
In other words, empathy is the ability to understand the feelings and emotions of another person. It is the ability to “put yourself in their shoes” and try to understand what they are going through emotionally.
Why is Teaching/Modeling Empathy Important?
Why should we as parents and caregivers explicitly teach and model the concept of empathy? Because Empathy is a LEARNED trait. Everyone is born with the ability to feel empathy but many of us need to develop skills in order to understand and feel sensitive towards the feelings and emotions of others.
Ways to Teach Empathy
Talk About Feelings–Teaching our children about feelings, and how to name those feelings, is the most critical skill in developing their emotional intelligence. When you or your child are feeling a particular emotion, name it for them. Help them to understand when they are feeling joy, sadness, jealousy or anger. Once they understand these feelings in themselves, help them to recognize them in others. Practice role playing with them about how to react when people they interact with feel a certain way. My daughter has a My Mood, My Choicesflipbook. This book not only teaches her to name her emotions but gives her some ideas for activities she can do to help change the emotion or celebrate it. She now gives suggestions to the rest of the family for things they can do when they are feeling a certain way. This is a great example of empathy.
Model Empathy–You are your child’s greatest teacher! Children are watching all that we do and often model the behaviors they see in us. It is important for adults to model empathy so that children can learn to grasp this important skill. Show empathy and compassion to the people you meet and do kind things for others. Most important (and sometimes the hardest), show empathy for the people living in your home. When your child is feeling emotional, try to empathize with them and remember what it was like when you were a child. When you are feeling a certain emotion, help them to empathize with you.
Help Others–Volunteering and helping people in need is a great way to help your children to develop empathy. Recently while serving lunch in the park to the homeless, a man came up to the backside of the table and asked for some water. The two adult volunteers he approached stood frozen, unsure of how to answer him. Turning to see this interaction, I jumped in and said, “Of course sir,” and grabbed him a bottle of water. My son said, “Mom you broke the rules, he is supposed to wait in line and get his lunch and water just like everyone else. I took both kids aside and said, “Did you see his face? He desperately needed water and I was in the power to be able to grant that basic need. Imagine how you would feel if you were desperate for water and I said you had to wait in line for 20 minutes to get it.” Our time volunteering gives us so many teachable moments in empathy and kindness.
Read Stories and Put Yourself in Their Shoes–Reading quality stories to your children (no matter their age) is a great way to help them to practice the skill of empathy. Throughout the story, encourage your child to “put themselves into the shoes” of the character and ask what they think the character may be feeling. We have a great list of books to help talk about empathy with your kids. Check out our Kids in Service Book Corner.
Practice Mindfulness–Teaching our children to be mindful is an important skill in helping them to get in touch with their own feeling and emotions. Learning to be mindful will then help them to learn to be compassionate and empathetic to others. Kids in Service has many resources for helping you and your family to create a practice of mindfulness in your home. Click HERE to find those resources.
The kids and I recently stumbled upon Leon Logothetis and his work in kindness. Leon is nicknamed the Kindness Guy and has incredible stories and adventures to share that all surround kindness. The kids and I started watching his show The Kindness Diaries on Amazon Prime (season 1, season 2 can be found on Netflix). We all LOVE this show and I have not seen an episode yet that has not left me in happy tears. It is a wonderful show to prompt rich discussions as a family around empathy, kindness and gratitude. I’d recommend it for kids ages 6 and up and most definitely for ALL TEENS and ADULTS!!
I just ordered got my hands on this book and can not put it down!! I highly recommend it for parents of ALL ages! Here is what the publisher says about it: Teens today are forty percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—which goes hand-in-hand with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, a lack of empathy hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate, and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy.
In UnSelfie Dr. Borba pinpoints the forces causing the empathy crisis and shares a revolutionary, researched-based, nine-step plan for reversing it.
Because of You–This website is for teens and it is a wonderful resource to show how their words and actions can affect other people. This site is full of videos and resources for parents and teens and a great way to discuss the topic of bullying and empathy with our teens. “By encouraging self-reflection and focusing on specific actions, our goal is to inspire this generation to create a more empathetic and inclusive culture around them.” –Beauseofyou.org
PBS Learning Media–This is another great resource for teens and parents. Here they have videos and resources that discuss empathy, gratitude, resiliency and kindness.