This time of year is always special to me, evoking meaningful memories. While reflecting on all my blessings, I also like to balance my gratitude with how I might do something better, now and in the coming year, the changes I need to make. What I love most about the holidays is gathering with family, sharing festivities with friends, when we toast to a kinder, better world, to good health, to a strong community. It’s always a challenge to sustain these connections throughout the year, given our busy lives. Our family traditions, whether for Hanukkah or Christmas, hopefully bring wholeness and purpose to our lives. For this brief period, there is a heightened awareness of giving, of being of service, of compassion and caring. Although the area is transformed in decorative splendor, not everyone is elevated by the holiday spirit. Our blessings are numerous in this community, easily insulated from the problems and pain of so many.

This time provides an important reminder of everything we cherish, yet for many this is also a time for old family wounds to resurface. If we believe in the power of healing, we have an opportunity to model to our children the true meaning of the season, by showing them the joy of giving, of appreciation for all we have, of forgiveness, of interacting with our families differently. Establishing healthy boundaries, using connective communication, rather than criticizing, attacking, blaming, or reacting, can help us gain a new perspective — these values are an integral part of our self-care. When we are committed to healing childhood wounds and to new possibilities in our relationships, we are passing on a healthier legacy to our children. Our “resolutions” for personal or career growth, and/or reconnection with friends and family, the chance to do something better, all seem possible. One step at a time, one day at a time, to deliberately address a need or a problem allows realistic change. Whether our goal is for personal “adjustment,” addressing a parenting issue with renewed commitment, or repairing a relationship with a family member or friend, applying positive intention is a good starting place. A few holiday suggestions:

1. Maintain connection with your children, despite any stress or possible conflict with family members/guests.

2. Honor who your child is, keeping in mind developmental, temperamental, and environmental factors (What is reasonable for my child at this age? With temperament, think: “How can I help my child,” rather than, “Why is she doing this to me?”). If stress and conflict are present, children absorb it, potentially affecting their behavior and mood.

3. Advocate for your child, particularly if a family member or friend judges his behavior, or your parenting approach. You may observe your child in an unfair situation, with a family member demeaning or shaming your child, yet say nothing for fear of disapproval or retribution.

If, as a child, your voice wasn’t heard or respected, you may easily recoil now when a parent/grandparent comments on or criticizes how you parent or how your child behaves. You believe that, if you speak up, the reaction will be blaming, aggressive. Perhaps you have been raised to be “good,” only to express “nice” comments, never any negative feelings. When standing up for your child is indicated, fear/anxiety grip you, evaporating your resolve to creatively mediate conflict. We’ve all experienced this, perhaps later regretting we didn’t approach it differently, advocating for our child instead of taking flight. Your child will need you to support him, to respond as the functional adult by addressing this.

Should you worry about how the holidays may play out with family, anxious about being shamed or judged, here’s an example of what you might say when a parent or family member makes a negative comment to your child about his energy. Example: “I appreciate you’d like Ian to sit still. He’s done such a great job of waiting for all of us to finish our meal and now his body really wants to move. I think running around outside will feel wonderful. You’re welcome to stay seated at the table for as long as you’d like.” Another example: if the family member questions your child about not talking enough, or something that makes him/her clearly feel ashamed, you might say: “I get that it’s hard for you when there isn’t lots of conversation. Susan has many wonderful ideas, and I’m sure she’s simply enjoying listening to what everyone has to say. Sometimes, there’s so much activity, noise, and talking, it can feel good to sit back. After all, we don’t get the chance to be around all the family very often. I know when she has something she wants to talk about, she will let you know.”

Cherish this opportunity for connection with your children throughout this holiday season, showing them you value their presence, being mindful of their respective developmental stages and temperaments. Holidays provide the opportunity for us to do it differently, to begin healing our past, while acknowledging the importance of connection, validating your parenting strengths. Making time for mutually respectful communication, supporting each other, making fun memories together, will bring comfort and nourishment, a sense of purpose.

As we embrace the holiday season, perhaps we can appreciate our many gifts, both the material as well as the abstract, spiritual, emotional resources at hand. The most valuable and precious gift is certainly our children, our partners, those dearest to us.

Please send me your questions.