As we enter into the holiday season it is a good exercise to reflect on what we want for the children in our care, their families and our staff. For many the holidays are an exciting time with good food, lots of visitors or visits, late nights and a change in our regular routine. For some the holidays can also bring about anxiety about hosting, cleaning, and of course finances. How can we improve the holidays for those we care about?
Focusing on the joy of the season helps us all put the stressors second. During November we want to model gratefulness to our littlest ones and express our gratitude to their parents and our staff. We thank those around us and we explain to our children that thanking others helps them feel happy. Count your blessings with children. This can be done at circle time, bedtime, or throughout the day as you experience something for which you are thankful. Even with all of this modeling, developmentally young children are fairly selfish. This is normal and to be expected. Helping others can be an effective way to encourage young children to think less of their own needs and more about others. Young children can volunteer through church or school by choosing food or toys to give away or even by helping a neighbor with household chores such as bringing garbage cans up from the street. Each time a child helps another you can reinforce his behavior by saying something like, “You are the kind of person who makes others feel good.”
We also want to show gratitude to our staff and our school families. Where would we be without them? Once again count your blessings each day. Specific praise goes a long way with adults too. Thank a teacher who stayed late in afternoon carline until the last, late parent arrived. Thank an office staff member who spent extra time on the phone with a prospective family. If your school can’t provide a Christmas bonus to the staff a heartfelt gift of a personal, hand written note of gratitude is appropriate. Tell a parent who sent in extra snack for other children how much you appreciate that gesture. Gratitude is contagious and a school full of thankful people is less stressful and more joyful even during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
Make sure that you find ways to celebrate with your staff. A Thanksgiving potluck lunch in the resource room lifts everyone’s spirits and sharing favorite recipes with each other builds connection. Add some delicious seasonal coffee or pumpkin spiced items in your staff work room. A staff Christmas party with Secret Santas or a “White Elephant” gift exchange raises morale and gets people excited. Limit extra faculty meetings during November and December keeping in mind that your staff could use a little extra time to get holiday chores accomplished outside of school.
Finally, let’s remember what Christmas is all about…the birth of the baby king, our savior. Help your children, their families and your staff to take the focus off of buying presents and visiting Santa and put the focus on celebrating Jesus’ birth. Classrooms can set their dramatic play areas up as a nativity scene with shepherds and sheep costumes, three crowns and three gifts, a blue drape for Mary and of course a baby doll wrapped in swaddling. Children are entranced by this important story of a baby’s arrival and love to play the parts, reenacting the story told to them in class. Instead of over-the-top classroom Christmas parties, how about a birthday party for Jesus? The children can sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and share a birthday cake together. Our family always did this on Christmas night. To this day my “children” who are 24, 21, 20 and 13 still call the cake we have on Christmas night “Jesus’ birthday cake.” Some families and classrooms place a crèche in the home or classroom in the beginning of December. They place Mary, Joseph and the donkey far away. Each day they move them closer to the manger to help the children understand Advent and the anticipation of Jesus’ arrival. Finally, on Christmas day Mary, Joseph and the donkey arrive along with baby Jesus. For the classroom, the teacher can have Jesus in the manger when the children arrive after the Christmas break.
Showing gratitude, creating holiday traditions, and celebrating together will help your children, families and staff to feel joyful and less stressed during the busy holiday season.
Kristin F. Millson, Ed. D.