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Living Joyfully With Children

 Holidays and the darkness of winter.

By Ann Zeise

Upset Woman’tis the Season of Joy, but sometimes with upset children it’s difficult to have that feeling of joy in the holiday season. Parents get distressed because they can’t do enough. Kids sense stress with their internal radar and then they commence to whiiiiiiiiiiine.

I’ve had the chance on several occasions to meet with my Milpitas neighbors, Win and Bill Sweet, authors of the book Living Joyfully with Children which I have made available for sale through Amazon, both because I like these people very much, and they have such a gentle, nurturing vision of how to live peacefully with children. They homeschooled their children back when there weren’t many others around doing it.

December is a particular hard time for those using curriculum to keep their kids focused on those text books. Often they fear some truant officer will appear and find them wrapping presents or decorating the tree. Horrors! What if you lightened up this one month and let your children learn what they will from holiday activities, how will you measure what they’ve gained? Here’s what I learned and interpret in my own way after reading the Sweet’s book.

Buy the BookLiving Joyfully With Children

Maximize Freedom and Success
minimize stress and failure.

That’s it. Keep that in mind and measure your days against that maxim.

OK, you say, but how do you put that in practice around the holidays? Here are Win and Bill’s suggestions (in red) for this month and forever more.

With awareness and attention you can create situations that will nourish and protect your children.

You can choose nourishing and safe foods and toys and holiday events for your child. Can you plan to avoid a bullying relative this year?

Do the “Taking Care of the Care Giver” form again, this time with your holiday priorities. Have each member of the family take it, too. This will help you plan to make this holiday season more ‘successful’ than ever.

Praise and show them that you appreciate them.

OK SignSome other book I read once recommended you track on a calendar that you notice yourself doing this 4 times a day, to establish the habit. No less, no more. Kids start getting suspicious if you do more.

Give children plenty of time to move from one stage to another at their own pace.

If your child is not ready for that bike, don’t “surprise” him with one at Christmas. If they aren’t ready for the responsibility of a pet, get them a stuffed animal. On the other hand, if they do feel ready to take on some new responsibility this time of year, do encourage them. Last year mine felt he could assemble the Christmas tree, and he did a fine job of it. It will be one less thing you’ll have to do.

Girl SpeakingStrive to demonstrate to them how valuable you feel they are; weigh all family decisions in the light of the effect those decisions have on the emotional core.

Hold a family meeting to decide Holiday ground rules. Base these decisions on firm principles of physics and social science and personal value systems. Demonstrate in many ways that you feel their value to the family, but insist that it not be measured in the prices you pay for their presents.


Discourage any competitive activities before sufficient maturity takes place to make it possible for the children to handle the competition without stress.

Competition at the Holidays? You bet! Plan after dinner party activities where everyone can end up with a smile on their face, even the littlest participants. Our tradition has been to pull out old slide projector pictures of early family days, to bring all the new in-laws and little ones up on “historic” events. Get’s pretty funny.

Positively reinforce children, verbally and nonverbally, many more times than you correct them.

Thumbs UpSandwich corrections between praise. “I appreciate you ever so much for helping me clear the table. Now hold the plate a little more level like this so the food won’t fall off. There!” And give them a gentle pat on the shoulders.

Remind your children frequently that you’re glad they came to live with you, for no other reason than that they are very special individuals.

HugIf you are in the habit of saying grace, this might be a good time. You might give everyone advance warning that you’ll be asking them to say why they are thankful that each other member of the family is with them for the holidays.

Give your children as many opportunities as possible to have control over some part of their lives.

Ask your children which traditions they like and dislike. You may be surprised that no one really likes sweet potatoes. Can they think of any traditions they’d like to start that other families may do? You may have to be prepared for requests to celebrate like people of another religion do. Prepare the children for some disappointments: they can’t control what gifts others will chose to give them, so give them control over deciding what they can chose to give others.

Let your children have control over what they wear. One little nephew decided that he wanted to be an Elf for Christmas, so grandmother looked all over and finally found an Elf costume. Not easy! Think of holidays when the men all wore plaid pants, and you will get the picture: if adults can be a little goofy, let the kids, too.

Separate mistakes and unacceptable behavior from the wonderful individuals that children really are. “You are wonderful, but that behavior is unacceptable.”

Mom & KidRemember that bad behavior often is the result of fear. Try to get to the root of the fear, and often the behavior will improve dramatically. Lack of enough sleep and hunger often make children cranky, too.


Scale disputes up to adult level; see how you would behave. Do you really want to share YOUR new presents with your siblings? OK, NOW how would a tactful person solve the dispute? How could the situation be turned around to maximize freedom and success for all concerned?

Help children save face, rather than facing humiliation.

May I suggest lessons in “tact” in advance, as much as the child can absorb for their age. Practice what to say when a gift isn’t “just right” or is something one already has.


Avoid insulting remarks. Promise you won’t declare out loud that your child is spoiled, lazy, fat, unappreciative, blah, blah, blah. It really puts a damper on Joy.

Interview of Win and Bill Sweet from California Homeschool Network, entitled “A Trove of Wisdom.

Cartoons from my registered copy of Web Explosion 20,000, Nova Development Corp., which is no longer in business.

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