Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 1, 2012

Mental Wellness: Prep kids for holiday season

Local columnist

---- — The wonderful and scary thing about kids is that they say what they think.

That is why a hug from them is so wonderful and a critical comment can cut through a parent's heart. They don't censor much of what they say and do.

With the holiday season upon us, Santa, friends and family bring gifts to celebrate our holidays. How do we prepare our kids to reduce the likelihood of a meltdown or inconsiderate word?

Lead by example

Why is this season so special? Do you tell your kids the stories of your childhood and why you find meaning? Does your behavior match what you articulate and think about this season?

When parents are stressed and running here and there, kids pick up on that. They know that shopping, cooking and other expectations are freaking you out. That sends them the message that those things are the focus of this season, not the more important stories, traditions and spiritual aspects.

Prepare them

Running through scenarios with your kids, especially before holiday gatherings, helps them to know expectations and also know how to respond. Maybe ask them, "How would you respond if you got a gift you didn't like?" This is a great chance to act, play and also learn how to be grateful without lying, before they are in the situation. Teach them to say something like, "Thank you so much, I will be able to use this when I"¦"

Slow down with them

This last tip goes along with the first. Take time throughout the month of December to have quality family time. Playing games, going for walks and getting out of the house (not to go shopping) allows for discussions, conversations and finding depth that is not found in the stress of the season.

Since kids are so honest, they are often a reflection of how we are approaching the season. When stress, worry and expectations drive this season rather than the wonderful family, personal and spiritual traditions, we not only shortchange ourselves, but also our kids.

Joseph R. Sanok is a counselor with Mental Wellness Counseling ( He can't wait for his family's Polish tradition on Christmas Eve of celebrating Wigilia Dinner where the pierogis are the best.