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Symbol of the Month: The Starburst, December 2019

The holidays are around the corner! It’s time to think about all the ways we sparkle, like the stars. How do we brighten our world? Do we bring out the light in our loved-ones? In what ways can we contribute to the happiness of others? Whatever we do, our kids imitate. If we focus on the positive, so will they. If we gripe and complain, so will they. The holidays in America are a time to give to others, to nurture relationships with loved ones, and to savor what’s best in our lives. How do you model these things for your adolescents?

Here are my top ten ideas to help you and your kids sparkle during the holidays:

1) Start each day by thinking about someone in your life who might need an uplifting message. Is it a sick friend? A worried mom? An overwhelmed teen? Decide who it is and then shoot them a text, just saying “I’m thinking of you. I hope tody is a better day.” That’s it. Short and sweet. See if you can do this for two weeks in a row during the month of December.

2) End your day by scribbling a written note (on a Post-It or an index card) to a family member, articulating why you are grateful to them for something they did. Did your son empty the dishwasher without being asked? Did your husband bring your flowers? Did someone remember to feed the dog so you wouldn’t have to for the millionth time? Did one of them greet you with a hug? Pour your coffee for you? Leave the note on their pillow as a small gesture of thanks.

3) When you’re at the grocery store, and you reach for your favorite candy bar or energy bar, buy two. Now decide who might be delighted when you spontaneously hand them that treat. Is it the guy at the dry cleaners? Can you leave it in your mailbox for your mail carrier? Is it the lady who checks your ID at the gym?

4) Bake a quick loaf of pumpkin bread or banana bread. Slice and package in ziplocs. Hand some over to your kid’s bus driver early one morning and surprise him or her.

5) Set up a basket of stamps, return address labels, envelopes, stationery, nice pens, and your address book. Ask your kids to sit with you every Sunday morning of December to write thank you notes. Turn on holiday music. Light a scented candle. Ask them to think of someone they ought to thank who probably went above and beyond on their behalf recently. Now you do the same. We all still appreciate snail mail.

6) Heading to a hair appointment? About to get your nails done? About to arrive at a meeting? Plan to pick up an extra-fancy coffee for your colleague or stylist. Everyone loves an unexpected pick-me-up.

7) Consider the folks in your life who might be more alone than you realize. They just got divorced. They just lost a parent. They are new to our country. Might it be possible to invite them to your holiday dinner? Sometimes a fresh face and a new perspective diffuses long-held family tension better than anything!

8) Time for gratitudes: Research tells us that we should be expressing gratitude on a daily basis. It lowers our heart rate, refreshes our outlook, and helps us lean positive. Can you and your kids start each day or end each day in December by stating aloud two or three things you’re grateful for together? These can be as small as, “I loved the tomato soup at school today” or as large as, “I’m so grateful that presentation went well!”

9) Some of us don’t live close to our parents. They tend to adore all of our kids’ antics. Could you and your kids commit to a weekly video message sent off to Grandma and Grandpa each week of December? Something funny that the kids remember their grandparents doing when they were very little? A piece of advice that a grandparent gave them that they truly savor? A request for a recipe for a particular baked good that grandma is famous for in the family? How can you flatter them? Make them feel valued?

10) Respect for the “behind-the-scenes” folks: can you and your kids make something small for the people who clean the cafeteria at school? Or for the guys who blow all the leaves off the campus? Or for the crossing guard? Or the school nurse? Or the receptionist at the pediatrician’s office? I imagine these folks tend to go unnoticed, and yet, nothing would run without them. How can you help your kids to think about throwing some sparkles of gratitude all around--not just to the obvious characters. Maybe it’s just a card? A batch of cookies? Some flowers?


Be sure to close the loop on this holiday experimenting. Ask your kids how it felt to think of others more often? Was it difficult? Did it make them feel better? If so, why? Do they think they could take one of these ten habits and continue it throughout the school year? Explain to your kids that when you take a break from worrying about your own problems, you feel lighter and brighter. Thinking of others and doing for others is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety and worry. When adults present with anxiety in my office, I remind them of the simple saying: “Replace emotion with motion.” Feeling sad or overwhelmed? Get moving: who can you bake a cake for? Write a thank-you letter to? Surprise with an unexpected treat? Sometimes we all get stuck, one of the best ways to get unstuck is to move to acts of kindness or gratitude

Our monthly content is ideated and written by Cristina Young, LCSW, who has more than 25 years of experience providing professional support to children, adolescents, adults, and families

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