Parent With Kindness During the Holidays Without Losing the Magic and Tradition - Podcast

parenting tips podcast social emotional skills Nov 25, 2022

Listen to the episode HERE


Note: The transcript below may not be exactly the same as the podcast and has not been edited for accuracy

A little background before I dig into this week’s topic about the holidays, specifically things like Santa and that little Elf and some of celebrations that go along with the Christmas. For those of you who don’t know, I grew up in the Middle East until Middle School and then later worked there as an educator for a couple years where I met my husband. I’ve been very fortunate to have been exposed to a lot of cultural traditions growing up. As a part of that I have friends who shared their stories and insights with me over the years. One of the cool things about where I grew up was this idea that we shared in celebrations. So I learned a ton about things like Ramadan, Eid and friends always wished me well during the holiday season.


This experience really helped shape me as a person and it something I brought to being educator working with diverse students. Fast forward a few years, when I owned a preschool, every year I moved further and further away from traditional approaches to the holidays. 


I started to rethink things like Santa, gift giving, the elf etc because it became more and more important to me that I support a variety of people and it also brought forward some values that I don’t actually support and didn’t align with my parenting.


Ultimately, if you have been listening to me you know the value I’m most committed to is Kindness. Authentic kindness rooted in empathy and awareness.


Empathy is that layer of understanding that isn’t just about thinking about other people, it’s about thinking about how other people feel. Next week I have Kaitlin of Kind Cotton on my podcast and we’re going to dig into this piece a little more deeply.


So today I’m taking a blog I wrote last year and adapting it for a conversation here because I think something that has always been really important to me is that not everything we do or know is bad. That you don’t need to completely toss out traditions and push people aside in your new approaches to parenting. 


Actually I want to pause here for just a second because this is something that I think a lot about especially when I talk to my parents and hear how their generation feels like they’ve cast aside, and a bit worthless because they made parenting choices that are no longer considered the right way to do things. I’m not talking about physical abuse here or serious trauma, I’m talking about parents who didn’t know how to use language effectively, didn’t know about emotional regulation, did have as much consumerism to navigate, way less research in general and worked together as a community to raise children… basically people who did their best with the tools they had access to.


I also acknowledge a lot of that generation doesn’t want to change. But, In part they don’t want to change because they are being told they are terrible human beings and bad parents. That they screwed up everything. We don’t typically want to do things differently when we hear we are bad. Sound familiar? Just like our children don’t want to change when all they hear is negative.


It’s also a well known fact that it’s really hard to be open minded the older you get. This isn’t to suggest you shouldn’t draw up some boundaries or put in place some new approaches. Something to ponder, are we being open minded by shutting them out? Or are we stuck in singular thinking too? Just different type singular thinking. The world is full of different personalities and part of shaping our children is exposing them to this and building their awareness around it.


Okay, let’s get to how this relates to this week’s topic. One of the reasons I think about the holidays differently is because of my diverse upbringing. It’s also where I land with some of my parenting advice. It’s not about this or that, it’s about some of this and a little of that.


So, this conversation is about exactly that. How do we take our evolving understanding of child development and blend it with traditions we know and love? Modern parenting is hard because a lot of times you are forging new paths, my goal in this conversation is to make that path a little less weedy!


In other words, how can we tweak what you are doing to benefit you, your child AND still have fun this holiday. Spoiler alert, you might actually find it makes parenting in the holidays easier.


So let’s dig into a conversation about Santa and that little elf with a mind for supporting your parenting in a way that positive and productive.


First some hard truths. The traditional concepts around Santa and the Surveillance Elf are teaching children unkindness and reinforcing behaviour in really ineffective ways. As someone who loves a little bit of magic and truly enjoys spreading joy, when I started to think about these traditions it was a really hard pill to swallow.


What I started to realize was that the whole holiday story was a bit shaming. Like, are you naughty or nice? Let’s be honest, we’re all a bit naughty and nice. There is no such thing as perfection and what exactly does that even mean?


So, knowing the story that Santa has a history of keeping a list about children who are naughty and nice and determining their present-worthiness based on this list.  What do we do with this? It’s super tempting to use it to control behaviour. If you don’t behave, you’ll end up on the naughty list and won’t get a present. So, this doesn’t actually work. It’s way too abstract, the consequence has nothing to do with the behaviour and generally it lends itself to more problematic situations. 


Where do I think this idea came from. The holidays are over-exciting. Children have hard time regulating as a result. What’s more effective than threats? Oh wait… we’ve learned that threats aren’t actually very effective at all, but again… this is a newer way of thinking and understanding so it’s not surprising it would be built into an age-old system because that’s how things were done.


Now on a really practical level how often could one really follow through with that threat. I have this phrase in my program - say what you mean and mean what you say. When it comes to behaviour, reinforcement and consequence, double standards will bite you every single time. Like, if you don’t behave, you’ll lose your presents. This isn’t a consequence most parents want to or could even attempt to follow through on. Then there is a whole other issue… what happens if this is December 1. What are you going to do for the other 24 days?


Okay, I think I’ve given you a little insight into why we might want to start rethinking some traditions. 


Now let’s build the story out with some language you can use, but doesn’t lose sight of the magic.


Hey, did you notice that Santa is really good at making people happy and spreading joy. I want you to know, no matter what choices you make, I will always love you. 


Sometimes we all do naughty things, but here’s the important part, we can always problem solve those together.


So in this house nobody will ever find their name on the naughty list because there isn’t anything you can do that we can’t work together on.                                                                    


So as you can see, you can’t change the story, but you can change the narrative! And it recognizes that different people might have different takes and that’s okay to. In this house we do this….


This thought process is really reflective of my signature framework the Language of Kindness. The idea that there is no good or bad, instead there is kind and unkind where unkindness always has a path for fixing mistakes while still being accountable.


Okay, so let’s tackle another example. How about that mischievous elf who is the world’s biggest tattle tale.


An example of language for this one might sound like:


When XYZ Elf visits our house, they are here to spread holiday joy! We believe in kindness and that when we are unkind it’s important to fix that. That’s not the Elf’s job, that our job to do together. 


I know the stories talk about how they are Santa’s watchful eye, but you know what, in this home we don’t support tattle tales it’s not very Kind (respectful.) 


Also remember, what we think about that naughty list, our Elf has nothing to report because we problem solve that stuff together! 


So, our Elf is here to spread Christmas joy without being a tattle tale.


So as you can see you don’t have to abandon the fun factor, but you can add an element of changing up the narrative to be more in line with your parenting goals.


I’ll never forget having this conversation with friends one year and the different thoughts, feelings and level of comfort and discomfort but there was one part that really wasn’t sitting well with most people in the conversation.


That was the super intense rule about touching resulting in loss of magic.


First, kids are curious and explore things with their hands so it’s quite problematic that we wouldn’t want something that clearly looks like a toy to be touched. It’s almost literally the impossible temptation. And I’m pretty sure a lot of kids are secretly touching the elf just to see what happens and guess what… the thing that is suppose to happen doesn’t because you didn’t see them touching it? That’s highlights one of the problematic pieces. What if you don’t see? What if you see one kid do it and not another and so on… It’s all about you needing to be hyper vigilant and monitoring. That’s not building skills for self-autonomy.


Anyhow, one way you could approach this if you are concerned about the Elf getting ruined … you could make the connection that the the Elf is a holiday activity, not a toy. It’s more like a model or a decoration. You could say something like, In this home it’s okay if they are touched here and there BUT, here’s the important thing, if the Elf moves too much it can get lost and then we won’t be able to see what hilarious mischief it gets into or we won’t be able to play the game any more. So let’s make sure it always gets back to where it belongs and we always use gentle hands with it.


Many years ago, after that conversation I was referring to, one of my preschool clients gifted me an alternative called the Kindness Elves by Imagination Tree. They are super cool and support building Kindness throughout the season. So if you are looking to infuse some magic with a completely different take, that might worth exploring.



For those of you who are thinking… We’ve already been sharing stories and we did it the traditional way!!! Is it too late? 

First, I want you to take a deep breath. We are all learning new things all the time. It teaches us and our children we can learn from the past and make changes for the future. It shows us that we are deeply caring people that truly want the best for our children.

I’m a big fan of being transparent. I’m a big fan of sharing our learning with children. I think when we own change and share forward it’s more resonating. Things like, I’ve been doing some thinking and I really want to focus our attention this holiday on kindness, on spreading joy. I want to find places where we can be helpful. I’ve noticed sometimes our traditions don’t support this, so it’s time to make some changes.


Focussing on the idea that Santa spreads joy and this makes people happy. Sharing gifts is fun, especially in the darkest days of winter. Great kids do unkind things sometimes, we can fix unkindness and build skills without threats. There are families who need extra kindness at this time of year so let’s find ways of supporting them.



What about older children and grandparents, what kinds of things can you talk about with them?

 I start from a place of kindness because this promotes inclusion. Not only inclusion of people that may not believe in the same traditions, but also people who have different beliefs within the same system. 

To help support this conversation I have slowly introduced my children to the role that marketing plays in the holidays that we celebrate. This has helped focus our conversations on what values we want to uphold during this period of time and which ones we need to be aware of.

Traditions like Christmas, Halloween and Valentines etc have a very real corporate component. Through our conversations about how to spread joy and kindness we have also done some investigating into the history of certain traditions. For example, a few years ago we investigated the role that Coke-a-Cola played in the person many people now see as Santa. For comparison, we also dug into the history of Christmas and St Nicholas in Europe. In other words we explored the tradition as if we were studying another culture. This opened our conversation to talk about the good elements and also talk about some of the things that are not so awesome.  


Some of those topics were….

  why do we give and receive gifts and what do we want that to mean?

  •  How do we want to define the spirit and magic of Christmas within our home?
  •  What are holiday lights for?
  •  How can we be respect of people who have different beliefs than ours?

 So through this lens we were also able to talk about how different people in different places have different values, beliefs etc and part of kindness with our friends, who do believe diffusely, is to respect them, not correct them. 







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