Not long ago, I was introduced to an anti-bullying organization called Heroes In Waiting. I thought I’d already seen every anti-bullying message and video out there, but a couple things really struck me about this particular organization’s message.
First, they do away with the labels of “bully” and “victim” and instead focus on behavior. They teach that behavior isn’t the person, and behavior can be changed. Also, they’re very clear that bullying behavior always includes a power differential: one individual trying to exert power over another.
Those lessons made me think about this season and how so many times we allow the demands of the holidays – programs and activities, family pressures and obligations – to hold power over our families at a time that should be peaceful, reflective and joyful. Sometimes the bullying behavior we experience actually comes from ourselves.
In that spirit, here are three ways to build harmony in your household this holiday season and beyond.
1. Slow Down
We’ve all been there: It’s 5:40 on the evening of the holiday program, your 7-year-old is refusing to let you brush her hair and she’s having a meltdown for the ages … you’re supposed to have her in the choir room at 6 p.m.
One of the first things developmental pediatrician Dr. Mark Bertin tells overwhelmed parents is to slow down. Take a step back, ask what and who is contributing to the situation and put things in perspective.
Is your daughter short on sleep? Has she already been to rehearsals two nights this week? Are you under pressure because you have a huge project due tomorrow and don’t really have time for this tonight? Stopping for a minute to survey the situation always brings clarity. In this case, your daughter is probably exhausted. She doesn’t want to put on her “good clothes,” get out in the cold and perform for a bunch of strangers. And neither do you. Take a minute to acknowledge that and get through the evening together.
Next, put the situation in perspective. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
She gets to the choir room at 6:05 instead of 6 p.m.? Not life-altering. She’ll get in line and be on the bleachers just like everyone else’s kids. Her hair’s messy? The video you get will be historic, and you’ll have an awesome story to tell.
2. Unsubscribe from Perfection
Newsflash: There’s no such thing as perfection. When we feel completely out of control, our tendency is to look at everyone else’s “perfect” kids in the holiday program and feel like we’re failing as parents. That’s exactly when we need to take a little advice from the experts: Don’t compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides. The outsides aren’t always real.
What is real is that life is messy, we’re all doing the best we can and sometimes – especially around stressful times like the holidays – life and little ones have other plans. At those times, the most helpful thing we can do is to let go of the false ideal that is perfection.
In fact, according to mindfulness psychologist Dr. Elisha Goldstein, unsubscribing from perfectionism actually sets a good example for our kids. As role models for our little sponges, we can powerfully model for them that imperfection is a normal part of life.
3. Remember: Calm is Contagious
Former Navy Commander Rorke T. Denver tells a story about the final day of his Navy SEAL training when things were going completely sideways. The ranking officer was screaming his head off, and the students were responding with even more pandemonium. That’s when a master chief petty officer gathered the team together and told them something Denver never forgot: Calm is contagious.
If the person in charge stays calm, the people looking up to them stay calm. If the person in charge is exuding chaos, the people looking up to them follow suit. It’s not just calm that is contagious — panic, stress and worry are, too. And for more intimate relationships, like those between parents and children, the correlation is even stronger. Kids don’t just mimic your reaction, they amplify it.
This brings me back to Heroes In Waiting. One of their free lessons teaches kids they have the power to create more of the feelings they want and less of the feelings they don’t want by doing simple things like taking a deep breath, being nice to themselves and learning to respond to stressful situations in a way that’s helpful instead of destructive. That’s pretty great advice for us parents in this season, too.
Editor’s note: For more information about bullying behavior and kids’ mental wellness all year long, check out the free curriculum, videos and resources at heroesinwaiting.org.