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Living in a Material World

The Importance of Family Traditions

by Kristin Cicciarelli | Contributor

The holidays are just around the corner and that means it’s time to celebrate our love for Walt Disney, Apple electronics and Wii games. Wait—there’s something wrong with that statement! Aren’t holidays really supposed to be about family and friends? Shared experiences? Perhaps a time to reflect on life? And how about an opportunity to express gratitude for that which you already have?

The answer of course, is yes. But try telling that to your wistful children whose gift lists are as long as the Magna Carta and whose friends are “all getting the latest (fill-in-the-blank)”. How do parents navigate around the fact that we do live in a material world, yet successfully teach children to be more about giving than receiving?

Mary Sanger, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Founder/CEO of Insights Collaborative Therapy Group in Dallas, thinks it begins with family traditions. “Family traditions give a sense of cultural or religious identity and heritage,” Sanger says. “They communicate a family’s belief system and teach what the family’s values are. Traditions also provide kids with a strong foundation to stand on when they’re searching for their own identity and sense of self, grounding and connecting them to family over many generations. Traditions are a stable force against outside pressures to conform to the materialistic society in which we live.”

Yes, children are going to ask for things. And it’s both fun and rewarding to watch them unwrap a few presents. But overindulging rarely pays off and instead, can create unrealistic expectations and a lack of gratitude. Instead of showering children with gifts, indulge them with your time. “Spending time together as a family facilitates kids getting outside of themselves, being in relationships with others, having wholesome fun, and doing something for people they care about,” Sanger says.

This year, help your kids bring the focus of the holidays onto togetherness and family traditions, both old and new. Without a doubt, you’ll create special memories that will last them a lifetime (unlike last year’s video game).

Ideas for Creating New Family Traditions

• Salvation Army “Adopt an Angel” Tree Giving opportunities like these are in nearly every shopping center, school and religious institution soon after Thanksgiving. Set the date when your family will choose an ornament from the tree and then shop together for a child in need.

• Reading Night Choose an evening where everyone sits down together and one person reads a short holiday themed book or passage. Take turns each year on the reader and don’t forget the hot chocolate, marshmallows and maybe a roaring fire in the fireplace.

• Be Charitable Whether you choose to bake cookies for a charity, volunteer your service at a soup kitchen or take up a collection for a monetary donation, include the kids in your activities. There’s no better teaching example than doing.

• Light the Candles or Trim the Tree Together Just because teens and ‘tweens have busy social calendars doesn’t mean Mom and Dad need to schlep out all the holiday décor while their offspring are at the movies. Kids enjoy seeing the house decorated for the holidays, so let them be a part of the process.

• Food Related Traditions Food provides a wonderful opportunity to celebrate your family’s heritage, bring a sense of culture into your traditions or simply gather for nourishment and pleasure. Whether you incorporate Grandma’s elaborate biscuit recipe into the big meal or takeout from your kids’ favorite (and pricey) restaurant, serve something that you wouldn’t serve on a regular day. It will give all of you something to look forward to each and every holiday.

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