Self-care Tips for Parents and Families During the Holidays

Almost every culture has a festival of light during the winter months.  Some are religious and some are secular but all traditions typically include an increase in activities related to music, celebrations, specialized food preparation, and exchanging of gifts. For families with gifted people who are already dealing with the stress  that comes with intensity, sensitivity, and perfectionism, this whirlwind of events can easily drift towards overload.  Often, busy caretakers put themselves last and are short-changed without time to recharge and renew.  The following tips are some ways to enhance self-care either solo or in tandem with other family members:

  1. Take time out each day for a few minutes of alone time/me time.  When adults model that this is an essential part of life then they send the message that respite is important, just like work. Microbursts of me-time can help to reset when daily challenges threaten to overwhelm.  Five minutes of quiet reading, practicing an instrument, or walking the dog can be energizing. Brainstorm with your family how each person can find some individual favorites for finding their quiet center and then make and post the lists.
  2. The research on mindfulness is becoming more and more clear—mindfulness, or noticing the present with kindness and curiosity— is effective in creating a sense of peace and calm.  Whether you have a formal mindfulness practice like meditation or an informal practice like intentional walking, there remains a focus on what is happening in the here-and-now. Delighting in the seasonal sounds and tastes, savoring the scents, and giving attention to natural surrounds heightens awareness and slows the pace of life.  Guiding gifted youngsters in these practices creates a shared bond of experience.
  3. Breathe—just breathe.  It sounds so silly to be reminded of something obvious but in times of stress the breathing often becomes erratic and escalates a sense of loss of control.  Controlling one’s breath with a simple activity like breath in, hold for four counts, breath out, and hold for four counts can generate a sense of control and tranquility. For those who prefer more direction there are increasing numbers of free apps for kids and adults alike that provide guided breathing or relaxation exercises. Have family members locate the ones they favor for tone, cadence, and overall soothing ability.  It is often revealing to note the wide range of preferences within the family.
  4. Find time to demonstrate moving empathy to compassion.  Compassion is the willingness to shift towards action in relationship to kindness or thoughtfulness towards others.  It isn’t difficult to find others in need but sometimes it can be tough to find other families who share similar concerns.  Websites like The Honeycomb Project can provide resources for families who share a vision towards helping a particular cause or group.  Researching and reading more about issues can provide gifted youngsters with a deeper understanding of the complexity of social justice issues.

Enjoyment of the holidays begins with maintaining a sense of equilibrium despite the many challenges brought on by the increase in activities and  events.  Joining together and sharing helpful strategies within and among families can lead to festivities that create positive memories for all.

Michele Kane, Chair, Parent, Family & Community Network; Professorof Special Education, Northeastern Illinois University