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December 23, 2020Ten Ways Kids Can Connect with Themselves and with Others This Christmas

Even though many of us are going to have a different Christmas this year, we can still find ways to connect.
Do you have young people in your life that may be anxious about the upcoming holiday season? Here are some heartwarming activities to try with them that will boost levels of emotional regulation and self-knowledge.

Encourage mindfulness
Noticing small details in our environment may help children get their attention off thoughts of the pandemic and into the present moment. Perhaps taking the time to pick out features on a frosty walk, or time to sit and notice how a carpet or blanket feels on their legs.

Research has shown that repetition of an intentionally created state can become an enduring trait of the individual as reflected in long-term changes in brain function and structure.

So by helping your child to be more present in their body, this is a trait that they could naturally develop as they grow older. This will help them improve their self-care skills and be more able to relate to themselves and others.

Conduct regular ‘check-ins’
Check-ins are asking ‘How are you feeling?’

It can be a vulnerable time of year, so daily or weekly emotional check-ins can be beneficial for all the family. Perhaps it’s something that you do on a Sunday morning after breakfast or every Thursday night after dinner. There’s no pressure to share, it’s just about creating a safe space for people to check-in with their emotions.

One great resource to help is Ashley Green’s ‘The Emobeans and their feelings’ — which takes children through the process of managing their emotions and learning to feel their feelings, no matter what. Using a tool like this can help provide a safe space to help your child open up, rather than sitting them down and encouraging them to share.

Connect with the breath
Breathing is a great way to connect with yourself and practice self-regulation.

Breathing exercises can help activate the parasympathetic, which controls our rest state and deactivate the sympathetic nervous system which regulates our fight-or-flight response, with stimulation of the vagus nerve. Why not try slow breathing with the kids when waiting in line for your Christmas groceries, or when you’re at the gas station filling up?

In 2015, Cheryl Yang and her team at National Yang-Ming University in Taiwan showed that 20 minutes of slow breathing exercises (six respiration cycles per minute) before going to bed significantly improves sleep.

Practice observing thoughts
When children observe their thoughts, they can realise that they’re the witness of them. This is something called ‘metacognition’, and it helps them connect to their identity, rather than the thoughts they have.

Go Zen says “the goal for our children is to learn to observe their thoughts as something separate from themselves. In this, it’s easier to see that thoughts are transient; children also learn they have a choice as to whether to act upon their thoughts.”

Perhaps when your child shares something that they’d like to have for Christmas, try observing thoughts together. This will help to build self-knowledge and self-advocacy.

Make a gratitude list
Gratitude comes from savouring things in your immediate environment. Writing down things that you’re grateful for helps to focus your attention on things that went well, or things you enjoyed, that you might ordinarily forget about.

This can help children process events in a helpful light, and balance out some of the negativity in the world with things that they feel appreciative of:

Dr Robert Emmons says “Processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity. It is not a form of superficial happiology. Instead, it means realizing the power you have to transform an obstacle into an opportunity.”

Connect with animals
Animals are often a really safe space for children. At a time when the world seems to be chaotic, animals can provide a calming and grounding influence to a child that is struggling with their emotions, as well as helping them to build empathy.

A study with students found that pets can make people feel better after experiencing rejection.

If you don’t have pets of your own, find a way to go and see some animals or observe wildlife in nature.

Do something nice for a stranger
During the festive season, doing something for strangers can give you a warm glow inside. Even if you can’t physically help anyone due to the pandemic, by doing something like donating to a food bank with your child. Not only will it help to connect them with those less fortunate, but they’re also able to share in some kindness.

Kindness has been proven to boost feelings of wellbeing. You could even ask them afterwards ‘How are you feeling?’

Learn about what you can control
Part of connecting with ourselves and our emotions is knowing what we do have control over, and what we don’t. Children can often get anxious because they worry about an outcome that they actually have no control over.

Helping them to learn about their ‘locus of control’ will make them feel more empowered and improve their impulse control. Especially important if there are family disagreements during the holidays!

We love this poster, backed by psychological research.

Encourage time for laughter every day
When you’re knee-deep in chores and trying to cook the Christmas dinner, it can be difficult to find time to laugh together with your child, especially if you’re feeling stressed yourself.

But taking the time to watch a funny YouTube clip or TikTok with them will make all the difference, and help you connect this Christmas.

Laughter can help you connect and bond, but it also reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, studies show.

Take 5 for a ‘body scan’
A ‘body scan’ can be a fun exercise to do with children to help them connect to their body. This is a great idea to do when they’re ready to sleep, perhaps after a warm bath.

By asking them to close their eyes and to place their attention in different parts of the body, it can not only feel like a ‘game’ to kids but can also be incredibly calming. This exercise helps them connect to their body, to self-regulate, and to notice subtle sensations.

Research has shown it’s one of the best methods for relieving anxiety, so it’s a good one to try if they’re worried about Christmas restrictions.

We hope you enjoyed these tips!

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year from everyone at YouHue 💜