10 tips for nurturing attachment during the holidays

pixabay-tips-for-attachment-parenting-during-holidaysThe holidays are an exciting time for children. The gifts, the lights, the decorations, the food, the family gathering — the list goes on and on. But in the hustle and bustle, it’s easy to lose sight of the values we want to pass down to our children, such as strengthening and maintaining a strong parent-child attachment.

Here are 10 tips to nurture attachment with our children during the holidays:

  1. You are the best gift“Living in a split-attention society, many children have rarely experienced the full, uninterrupted attention of a parent.” Stacy inspires us to give our children what they really want: Our time.
  2. Emphasize family time “The best present we are getting each other this year is time together.” Scylla encourages all of us to intentionally spend time together as a family in our annual holiday traditions.
  3. Santa or not, don’t use gifts as a bribe“Our family does Santa, but we don’t use him as a discipline tactic. The kids have no idea of the notion that they ‘must be good’ so Santa will come.” Sarah suggests that we keep the spirit of the holidays without any of the shame.
  4. Protect your child’s sleep“Don’t disrupt your normal sleep arrangements. If you normally cosleep, continue to do so.” Especially while traveling, Jasmine reminds us to continue nighttime parenting and safe infant sleep guidelines despite the holiday.
  5. Inspire the spirit of giving“For the first time ever, the school-aged children beamed with pride over the effort put into their gifts and the expectant joy when the receiver opened them. The emphasis was now on the making and giving rather than the receiving.” Judy offers a list of gifts that children of all ages can make and reclaim the spirit of the holidays.
  6. Rethink holiday treats“Many of my holiday memories revolve around food. Now that we are starting our own family traditions, I am trying to incorporate the fun and pleasure of holiday goodies without the overload of sugar. As a parent, it is my responsibility to nurture a taste for nutritious foods.” Dionna inspires us with tips to make holiday treats that are both special and healthier.
  7. Strive for balance“Especially going into the holidays, I find that it’s easy to lose days to errands, decorating, and purchasing presents. I get to the end of the day and feel like it was lost.” API Leader Sonya Feher reminds us to take some down time for ourselves.
  8. If you’re breastfeeding, take advantage“The holidays can be overwhelming to little ones, so time spent breastfeeding can be like a retreat. It’s a quick and easy way to reconnect and helps restore calm and reduce overstimulation. When I’m nursing, I also get the chance to sit down, put my feet up, and let some other folks do the work for a bit.” Amber encourages breastfeeding mothers to make the most of breastfeeding, both for their children and themselves, during the overstimulating holidays.
  9. Model discipline“Christmas can be a tricky season as far as discipline goes. There are presents stacked under the tree. There are cookies and sweets everywhere. There is constantly family, noise, and activity. It is very hard to stay disciplined ourselves, and it is the same for our children.” Jasmine reminds us to teach our children through example of how to navigate boundaries during the holidays.
  10. Plan on growth — “I resolve to practice positive discipline, not to spank or use rewards or punishments to coerce behavior.” Never big on making New Year resolutions, Christina explains why she had a change of heart.

8 ideas to holiday gift-giving to cultivate more connection

emily holiday post memeThe holiday season is upon us. As chilly winds begin to blow and the days become short and gray, we are given the opportunity to draw our loved ones near and celebrate what brings warmth, light and love into our lives in the face of cold and darkness. We return to family traditions, created and recreated year after year, to strengthen the ties that bind and celebrate the joy that comes with feeling connected to family and friends near and far.

And then — like a scratch in the record playing our favorite carol — we are bombarded by harsh interruptions at every turn: Glossy newspaper toy ads and email specials blanket our surroundings like a fresh blanket of consumerist snow…loud, boisterous commercials on the radio boom into our speakers as an overwhelming list of wants and needs, and often lies and insecurities, fill our minds…our children, so sensitive and eager to celebrate, start to fill up their elaborate wish lists as visions of sugar plums dance in their heads…grown-ups race from place to place, checking off lists, and fulfilling obligations, wondering in the back of their minds, Will our gifts be enough to bring joy to our loved ones? Will our funds be enough to provide a bounty of food and drinks on our table? Are we doing enough to make this holiday season special?

emily van boegartSo, before those discouraging feelings start to creep into your warm heart, I need to tell you something: You are most certainly enough, friend. I see how much you care about your loved ones, and the incredible attention and effort you put into making the holidays picture-perfect and full of good cheer. And I also want to tell you something else. You, yes you, are the greatest gift you can give your friends and family. Ask them; they’ll tell you it’s true.

Instead of getting carried away with the pressures of consumerism, let’s put our heads together and find a way to reclaim this season for the values and truths we hold dear in our hearts. Don’t get me wrong — giving amazing gifts can feel magical for both the giver and the receiver, and we absolutely can and should share our bounty with one another. But as we give gifts and spread joy, let’s use the occasion to be intentional and celebrate who and what actually matters most to us.

Since breaking patterns and changing habits can be hard work, I’ve gathered a list of ways you can make the season a little bit brighter as you give to those who are closest to you:

  1. Buy local, support artists and artisans, and invest in quality — You can use your holiday gift-giving as a way to connect with people and things that matter to you. Find local and independent businesses that share your values and worldview. That could include a boutique that sources fair-trade merchandise, businesses that support diversity and equality, shops that feature lovingly handmade items and goods made with sustainable materials, performances that move you, services delivered with great care and skill, and nonprofits that benefit causes close to your heart. You can maximize the goodness of your generosity by supporting businesses that in turn support the vibrant, ethical and thriving communities to which you would like to belong.
  2. DIY, thrift, trade and upcycle — Creating useful crafts or making food can be a relaxing way to spend time, and a fulfilling way to meditate on how much someone means to you as you make their gift. Not crafty? There’s no shame in scoring a one-of-a-kind vintage item, a perfectly broken-in hardback book, or a nearly new toy or game at a second-hand shop. Reach out to friends to swap new-to-you items into your family’s rotation. Save time and resources by reusing gift bags or by wrapping gifts with cloth that can be reused again and again: Pillowcases make great gift bags, and baby’s outgrown receiving blankets make excellent Furoshiki-style wrapping cloths. Think outside the box, and let your creativity flow.
  3. Set some boundaries — This is a challenging one. Nobody likes to be told how and what to give. However, if a gentle and thoughtful request is made to express your family’s need for more connection and fewer collections, your loved ones will likely hear and honor those feelings. Go ahead, be courageous and ask grandparents to limit themselves to 1 gift per person or the gift of an experience if your child’s toy chests runneth over. Chances are that their beloved grandchild will end up with a truly thoughtful, useful, meaningful gift they will be elated to receive, and grandparents can kick off their shoes and spend a little more time snuggling and less time shopping. Parents can use the “want/need/wear/read” method to cover the basics and the fun stuff for the littles without going overboard. Families big and small can also benefit from gift drawings, and there are many ways to make them fun and easy, from online gift-drawing generators to gift-swapping games.
  4. Give to those in need — Feel a twinge of sadness and guilt when you drive under the expressway with a trunk full of groceries and gifts only to see a person who is cold, homeless and hungry? Me, too. It’s easy to become paralyzed in those uncomfortable feelings, but we have the power to make a difference. There is more than enough to go around, but only if we stop spending frivolously for the benefit of huge corporations and simply share what we have with our fellow human beings. There are so many ways to share our relative abundance and to connect with those who have less. You can donate individually or collectively to your favorite charity, spend some quality time with friends and family volunteering for a great cause, or plan an acts of kindness advent for your family. Reach out to someone who is lonely or suffering by sharing your meal, listening to their story or simply letting them know you care.
  5. Don’t believe the hype — Stuff does not equal joy. After joyous celebrations, many of us wake up to an inevitable overwhelming and treacherous mess the day after our gift-giving holidays: piles of items we neither want nor need, trash bags full of discarded papers and packaging, the heavy and heart-wrenching burden of returning and regifting. The waste and inefficiencies of the holidays can put a big ol’ damper on all the fun festivities. The practice of over-consuming often turns good intentions and generosity into drudgery and uncomfortable obligations. Blech.
  6. Give the gift of not getting gifts — What do you get for the person who has everything they need and the means to get what they want when they want it? Um, nothing? Let’s face it, purchasing a gift for the sake of going through the motions feels contrived and wasteful. Sometimes we have the option to let each other off the collective hook and simply agree to ditch the ritualistic consumerism. Feeling sassy — or fed up — enough to try it? High five!
  7. Treat yourself — The holidays can be a very stressful time of year for many, but you don’t have to consume material goods to get a boost. Taking the time to fill your own cup with something warm and nourishing gives you more energy to share love with others. Recharge your batteries by bundling up to take a walk in the woods, laughing — or crying — with friends or by taking a nice long bath. In the hustle and bustle of the season, simple pleasures are where it’s at.
  8. Presence over presents — Ultimately, there are many ways to use holiday gift-giving as an occasion to share your time, talents and loving kindness with your special people. Whether you surprise someone with the promise of a fun outing or opportunity to learn something new, offer to lend a helping hand, or simply show up with hot buttered rum and make someone smile, time spent together can be an incredible gift. We can celebrate the relationships we already have and invest in them with our time and attention. You have the option to spend more time baking cookies with a child and less time sitting in traffic in cold, dark parking lots. We have a nearly endless supply of opportunities to create memories and a lifetime’s worth of time to enjoy them.

Now is the time to take a moment to start thinking about how we celebrate this season and determine if it truly enriches us in the ways we want and need. We may not have all the answers to make a perfectly peaceful and joyous holiday season, but we can start asking questions:

  • What will we do this year to bring more joy into our own hearts and the hearts of others?
  • Will this be the year we stop participating in rituals that make us feel sad, insecure and financially overextended?
  • How can we replace unhealthy habits with ones that make us feel more grateful, united, connected and harmonious?

The pressure to spend our social currency, time and hard-earned dollars feeding a never-ending cycle of insecurity and greed through the consumption of mass-produced material goods is immense. It’s up to us to remember that we have the power to spend our time, resources and energy wisely and generously to build relationships and communities that lift us all up. Maybe, just maybe, we can start to set down the shopping lists and bags of presents so that we may reach out our hands, hold those we love closer, and begin to spread love and kindness all year long.

Making connections through gift-giving and receiving

christmas-gifts-1322621-mI don’t know about you, but every year as the winter holidays begin to creep closer, I start to have a moment of panic.

Well, maybe it is not so much panic but more dissociative in nature.

What I am preparing for is the list that is coming, the list of items that I know my children are going to be wishing for as they begin to write down all the material goods that they desire.

The panic is what creeps in first as I prepare myself to show willingness to accept these lists that they have worked so hard to create. The dissociation comes in when I want to go into denial about this time of year, how many gifts to purchase or what it all really means.

I am lucky to be in a position where I am usually able to purchase whatever my children need or to obtain exactly what is desired throughout the entire year. As a result, these lists that my children are creating seem like extra stuff that they do not really need but are developed out of the idea of the gift-receiving concept that comes with the winter holiday season.

What if things were different this year? What if gift-giving and receiving really came from the heart? Could this provide us with an opportunity to see and distinguish between what we need, want and desire?

Could we expand upon this concept to move away from the material side of the holidays and look more closely at the altruism and willingness to open to others in love?

Instead of leaving my children alone to make a gift wish list, I could spend time with them. We could look at what passions they have and then volunteer or make financial donations to organizations or charities that are aligned with their interests. We could make a decision to support only local businesses when we want to purchase items. We could spend time together making gifts or finding other ways to engage within our community.

All of this we could do without any expectation of return, which is one way of defining what it means to offer gifts.

Maybe this year will be about embracing a different side of the economy that does not involve me going to multiple stores to purchase every item on my children’s wish lists.

lisa feiertag 3Instead, we are opening doors of connection, providing opportunities for me to understand what my children enjoy doing and how we can share that love with others.

This could become very contagious.

As we step outside the norm to offer gifts from the heart that involve our time, energy and money, others may see how much joy we have. They may wonder where this comes from and may experience exactly what it means when we offer service or gifts to others without any expectation of return. This could be the encouragement needed for my girls to continue doing it and has the potential to get others involved.

What a great way to form connections with our loved ones and to embrace community instead of continuing within a pattern of panic and dissociation.

Teaching the art of giving

I have such fond memories of my childhood Christmases.

I remember the emotions and feelings of warmth, love and happiness more so than the bountiful supply of gifts we eagerly unwrapped each year. I want my 3-year-old daughter to have the same kinds of cherished memories that I have stored so lovingly in my heart.

My daughter’s favorite traditions are probably the Christmas countdown chain and the 12 Days of Christmas tree, which both help to give a tangible reference to the amount of time left until Christmas day.

We have also started many Christmas traditions this year, including a kindness manger, where acts of kindness are written on pieces of hay (paper) and are placed in a manger (shoebox), to create a bed of love and kindness for baby Jesus to be placed in on Christmas.

While my daughter will certainly get gifts that she has expressed interest in or requested, I do not want the receiving of gifts to be what she equates with Christmas, nor do I want it to be the cause of most of her joy surrounding the season. Instead I want her to hold most dear the traditions we partake in as a family: the art of giving and the act of charity.

We talked about how great it feels to give someone a gift that lets them know they are loved and thought of. I flipped through an Oriental Trading catalog and decided to have Juliette choose a craft that she would like to make herself to hand out to friends and loved ones at Christmas this year. She is quite the creative soul and will spend hours with whatever craft supplies she can get her tiny hands on.

mittensTo my delight, she flipped through the catalog with the same enthusiasm as though it were the advertisements for Toys “R” Us. She settled on a mitten craft, which could be turned into ornaments. It was perfect — inexpensive, easy enough to do herself and something that could be cherished year after year by family and friends.

When the supplies arrived, she frantically tore open the package and begged to start creating her gifts right away. She cannot wait to hand out her own gifts this Christmas exclaiming, “Family is going to be so happy!”

bulbWhen I suggested creating simple gifts for our neighbors, she was more than happy to help put those together as well. We filled plastic ornaments with red and green M&M’s and attached a Christmas poem. She is just as excited to walk the neighborhood and hand out these gems as well.

Juliette is a very curious child. My husband and I love the questions she asks and how inquisitive she is. When she asked what the word “charity” meant, I decided to show her rather than to simply explain its definition.

We talked about the meaning of charity and what it means to help and serve others. She decided she wanted to help babies, so I spoke to the staff at Gabriel Network, an organization where I have done volunteered in the past and arranged for Juliette to do a projects that would benefit the moms and babies who rely on Gabriel Network’s services.

snowmanJuliette helped to design footprint snowmen cards and sold them for $2. The money she raised was donated to Gabriel Network. Not only did she enjoy doing yet another Christmas craft, but the look of joy and pride on her face as she handed over her donation and explained that she wanted to help babies in need was priceless.

Children may be small, but they still have much to offer.

Being intentional in holiday family traditions

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the holiday season upon us, I am reminded of how important it is to keep our family’s focus on the true meaning of the season. For us, that is Christmas but no matter what your family celebrates or believes, I think everyone can agree that family is what’s most important.

It is easy to get wrapped up in the chaos of this time of year and lose focus on what’s important. While I love watching the magic of Christmas come alive for my children on Christmas morning as they open presents, I want the presents to be one part of a much bigger picture.

I have been doing a little behind-the-scenes work leading up to Christmas to ensure our family comes together to truly celebrate the holidays this year. This includes:

  • Chippy — This is the first year our family does the Elf on the Shelf tradition. We introduced the elf and named her Chippy last year, but our daughter was too young to fully grasp the concept of her. For those not familiar, the elf is sent by Santa to keep an eye on the kids; each night, he/she flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa and comes back by morning, each time hiding in a different spot. I’ve recruited Chippy to help facilitate giving back this holiday season. Some ideas Chippy will suggest include baking cookies to bring to our local police and fire departments, selecting a few gently used toys to donate and decorating Christmas cards for veterans who are away from their families.
  • Reading Basket — On December 1, we brought out a decorated box filled with wrapped books. Each night before bed, will be pick one book to unwrap and read together as a family. These books are all holiday- and/or winter-themed and are not normally on our bookshelves. This way, they all seem new. Some are just-for-fun books about snow, and some explain the meaning behind Christmas. To do this, I’ve gathered any appropriate books we already owned, combined with a number of books checked out of our local library. It’s a win-win for the family as it gets us reading together, and the kids get to unwrap something!
  • Jesse Tree — For our family, it is important to teach our children the true meaning behind Christmas. We are trying the tradition of a Jesse Tree this year to do this. The concept is that each day, the family comes together to read a passage of scripture and then puts a corresponding ornament on a special tree. We use a children’s bible designed for preschoolers to keep it understandable, and our tree and ornaments are a DIY project from felt that will adorn our kitchen wall for the month. Even if some concepts are lost on my kids, it will still serve to bring our family together with purpose each day.
  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAField Trips — I have planned a handful of special family outings for the month of December. They give us a chance to step back from the craziness of everyday life and simply enjoy this magical time of year. We will be taking a train ride to the North Pole via the Essex Steam Train, visit the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and go to a tree farm to cut down our own Christmas tree, to name a few.

I know that our plans for the holiday season may not resonate with what works for your family but I hope it can inspire you to come up with something that does.

This is a magical time of year, especially for children. No matter what holiday your family celebrates, it can be a time to create precious memories and traditions that will stay for years to come.



cason zarroWhat an exciting time of the year! The days are getting shorter, and the wish lists are getting longer. My evening walks have been so pleasant as neighbors are putting up twinkling lights that add such cheer to an otherwise gloomy night.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my children’s experience to be of this season. What do I want them to remember, and what do I hope they are looking forward to?

No matter what your spiritual beliefs, I think it’s safe to say we all want the hearts of our children to be filled with joy and thankfulness, excitement and wonder.

Beautiful, soft candle light, delicious food, a crackling fire, laughter, togetherness and happiness are what the winter holidays are about to me.  This is the time we pull out board games and laugh until our sides hurt with cousins from afar.

I haven’t been to Denmark, but apparently this warm feeling of connection has a word in Danish. They call it “hygge,” pronounced hi-ga with a short i.

My New Year’s resolution last year was to bring more hygge into our lives.

I enlisted the help of a friend, rearranged the living room, added warm lighting, added more pillows and created a welcoming, cozy room that practically begged my family to relax into it at the end of the day. As if by magic, the whole family naturally gravitated to the living room, a room that was previously used mainly for walking through. Sometimes we read, sometimes we snuggle, and many times we talk and recant our days.

These simple changes have brought our family closer and changed our whole feeling about our home. The spirit of the holidays can indeed live throughout the year!

In consciously trying to draw my children’s focus away from gifts, gifts, gifts during this time of the year, I encourage my children to talk excitedly about who we are going to see, what family members will be present, the fun games we will play and the predictable traditions we look forward to at our celebration. This is the time of year I bring out our special German candle holders with miniature people who dance by the power of the heat of the flames.

My family draws names for gift giving, and I love the opportunity to take each child shopping for a special gift for the family member whose name they drew. It gives us a chance to think in depth about that person and what they might like.

In remembering holidays past, we often remember the overall feeling, or a special event or tradition. The specific gifts are mostly lost in the mists of time.

I hope we can all give our children what they really want: our time and our love. They likely won’t remember the details, but they will remember the feelings and the connection.

Our lasting presents as parents

barbara nicholsonBy Barbara Nicholson, cofounder of Attachment Parenting International (API) and coauthor of Attached at the Heart with Lysa Parker

My mom has a compression fracture in her spine and will spend Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas in rehab. At 95 years young, she has been in remarkable health for most of her life, so seeing her suffer in pain is so hard.

When something like this happens to an aging parent, the roles reverse and I find myself doing all the things that I’ve done for my own children, and of course the things that she used to do for me.

barbaras mom nowI’ve been reflecting on my childhood in the 1950s, helping me to realize how much my mother practiced what we now call Attachment Parenting.

One of my earliest memories is a Christmas when I was about 4 years old and wasn’t feeling well, so Mother held me in her arms that whole morning while my dad and brother unwrapped my presents and brought them to me on the couch. I can even remember that she was wearing a soft sweater, and I loved feeling safe and warm in her arms. She didn’t budge for hours, even though I know now she must have needed to get Christmas dinner on the table and clean up the wrapping paper — things that seemed important at the time.

As I bring my mother a glass of water or cut up her food, I think of all the times she so lovingly cared for my brother and I when we were home from school with some childhood illness.

Back then, in a time when doctors made house calls, everyone got the measles or chicken pox. My mom would give me a little brass bell so I could ring it whenever I needed her. To this day, I crave chicken soup and 7 Up when I don’t feel very well, as that was the menu prescribed and that’s what we got. We never had soda in our house, so it’s funny to me now that being sick was the exception!

Barbaras mom setting holiday tableAs Thanksgiving approaches, I tear up thinking that my mom may not be able to come to our house. My brother and his family are flying in from Colorado (USA) so that will cheer her up immensely, but it won’t be the same if she’s not at the table, supervising the way the table is set and making her famous cranberry salad.

There is something intangible about these traditions, when they’re prepared with love and care, that is like a sacrament at the table. The fact that it takes Mother hours to prepare this little Jello salad with boiled cranberries, grated oranges and chopped pecans gives it a quality that takes us back to every holiday we’ve had together as a family.

My reflections lead me to so many of API’s Eight Principles of Parenting:

  • Feed with Love and Respect takes on another meaning around the holidays, and I hope that all of you also have family traditions. If not, you can start now and pass them down to your children.
  • barbaras mom reading to childrenRespond with Sensitivity has an even more significant meaning when you combine that with a childhood memory, like Christmas morning or being home sick in bed. You’ll never regret reading that favorite story one more time, when you know that as an adult your child will look back with such gratitude. That deep imprint will serve them well when they are caring for their aging parent.
  • The critical importance of Using Nurturing Touch cannot be overstated! My memories of my mother’s soft sweater and sitting on her lap while she’s reading my favorite fairy tales over and over to me are a tangible, tactile memory. Even though I can’t give my mother a big hug right now because it hurts too much, we can still hold hands while we watch television and give her a kiss whenever I come and leave.

Keeping our focus on loving connection around the holidays is everyone’s goal, but it can easily get lost in all the shopping and decorating. If I have anything to offer from my walk down memory lane, it would be:

  1. barbaras momInvolve your children with the cooking and decorating, keeping it simple when they are very young. They will remember your love and attention more than any gift they receive.
  2. Find a recipe that you can pass down to your children that they will associate with loving preparation for a holiday meal. It could be a special dessert, dinner rolls or a cranberry salad!
  3. No matter how busy we get, take plenty of time for touch, holding and reading favorite stories. As much as we watched television back in the 1950s, my fondest memories are of story time, not TV time.

Much love to you all and Happy Holidays!

The Gift Is You

This post was written by TheAttachedFamily.com contributor Stacy Jagger, MMFT, owner of Sunnybrook Counseling, www.sunnybrookcounseling.com.

Many parents I see in my counseling office are spending thousands of dollars on a variety of technological devices for their children each year–gaming systems, digital cameras, cell phones, etc.–while the children, who are displaying maladaptive behaviors and internal turmoil, are truly missing the parents themselves. Kidnapped by technology and the busyness of life, these parents and children often do not even realize what is happening to them until an outside source brings the truth to their attention.

1092533_41672492The best gift you can give your child is yourself. Living in a split-attention society, many children have rarely experienced the full, uninterrupted attention of a parent. We are so wrapped up in culture, jobs and keeping up with the Joneses that we have forgotten that the true meaning of life is connection. What we all want and need is true connection: connection with life, nature, our neighbors, our loved ones and ourselves.

Whether married or co-parenting, single parenting or fostering, mothers and fathers have the choice to model healthy, forgiving, mutually respectful relationships full of unconditional positive regard to enhance their family life. This creates an atmosphere where the children feel safe to receive the attention and care they need. True lasting security and positive relational skills are given parent to child, not Xbox to child.

Give your child the gifts of security and well-being that come from your time and undivided attention. Turn off the phone, television and computer. Go for a walk. Play with Play-Doh. Cook a meal. Play a round of Crazy Eights. Camp in the backyard. Have 5 minutes of special playtime where you paint fingernails, throw a football or teach a hand-clap game like “Say Say, Little Playmate.” Laugh. Play in the leaves.

Get in touch with the child within you. Let it be OK–because it is OK. You are connecting with the child Love placed in your care, and there is no richness greater than that. You are their leader. They are following you, watching you, learning from you. It is worth the time, the frustrations, the joys and the sorrows. Feel the fullness of your feelings and, at the end of the day, fall in your bed exhausted with a heart full of gratitude for the richness of life, as you live in the blend of the beautiful and the challenging.

Children are truly a treasure and the greatest gift you can give them is you.

Click here to read API’s white paper on giving children presence.