6 Steps to Building Your Family Relationships This Holiday Season

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I love the holidays.  I love the crisp air.  I love the tradition.  I love the colors.  I love the music. I love the time with my family.  I love spending hours trying to find the perfect gift.  I love the smells of great food only served during these special occasions.

But, I hate traffic.  I hate to travel.  I hate crowds.  I hate the demands of my family time.  Add in some COVID, a touch of election discussion, a dash of natural disasters, a splash of special needs, and the longer nights, and I find my exhaustion can (and sometimes does) lead to an attitude of complaining. I can lose focus on the good; I can (if I am honest), sometimes, even ignore those blessings right in front of me.

 I am so grateful for a husband who has helped me see this reality and the tips and tricks he has taught me to overcome this. I also know this is a year-round problem.  This is a lifestyle choice.  This is a daily choice.  So, here are some things my family uses to be grateful for the family and build our relationships.

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Count Your Blessings: The first step to having a gratitude attitude is to count your blessings.  As the old adage goes, name them one by one. For some tips on how to make this a daily practice, take a look at these simple steps.  Recognizing that, even though this year has been exhausting, challenging, and all around, awful for pretty much everyone, there is still so much to be grateful for. Take some time to name all the reasons you love your family; how they help; how they have grown; how far you have come toward goals.

Building Lego Airplane and Airport

Spend Quality Time with your Family: We make it a practice to spend at least an hour a night hanging with our little one.  It doesn’t always happen, but we try to make it a priority most nights.  This is the time our son picks what we do (the things that interest him).  We get down on his level.  We laugh with him. We celebrate with him.  As he has grown, this time has become more and more essential.  We often spend time cooking together or doing art together.  This is an intentional time we spend learning who he is and how amazing he is.  It is a reminder, especially on harder days, that there is so much light, love, and life to give to him and that he gives to us.

Family Game Night

Family Fun Night: These are my favorite nights!  My husband is usually in charge of planning these nights.  And he is so good at it!  Of course, we do the family game night, but my husband doesn’t stop there.  Having the same routine can become monotonous if that is all you do all the time.  So, we build Lego as a family or spend a night reading to each other.  Around the holidays, usually the first week of December, my family loves to read The Best Christmas Pagent Ever.  But here is a list of some books we have enjoyed reading together as well. 

Community Serve Day: Sending cards to those in senior homes

Family Work Days: I have a love-hate relationship with these days.  I hate getting started and how some tasks take WAY longer than they should do to teaching and training.  I love how we accomplish things as a family, I love seeing how my family grows in communication, strength, and bonds.  We set a goal for the day. Sometimes it is getting the garage clean.  Sometimes it spring cleaning (dusting, wall cleaning, re-organizing).  Sometimes, it is a community volunteer day where we volunteer at a local organization for someone else.  We really like these events being able to do things from helping the elderly to yard work for a non-profit.  We love being able to serve together.  This opens the door to so many life conversations that get missed in the daily chaos.

Family Work Out Night: 2 mile run and Card Deck Strengthening Game Night

Family Work Outs: I know what you are thinking…“No way!  Working out is for me to have a break from my kids” or “Nope, I don’t do that.”  Although there are numerous reasons to work out for your health and wellness, there is something more rewarding when you work out together as a family.  love to long-distance run together.  I am slow…very slow compared to my family who can run 2 miles in under 17 minutes.  But, we start as a family, and when they are done, they come back and finish with me – as a family.  I love the deck of card nights.  We use a traditional deck of cards and shuffle.  Each draws a card.  The number on the card tells us how many of the activity, the suite tells us what activity (hearts are abs, diamonds are pushups, spades are squats, and clubs rotate burpees, heavy ropes, punching bags, kicks).  There is so much variety with this, and it becomes a game.  We are completely out of fun ideas or need to get out of a rut, we find a new workout on Tubi, Amazon, or Youtube.   

Family Fun Hiking Day

Family  Fun Days:  My husband and son are as manly as they come.  They love to fish, hike, dig in the sand, and play in puddles.  I am as girly as they come.  I love to read, write, and paint.  We could not be farther apart on the spectrum.  But I love these days.  My boys will take me hiking into a beautiful wood, then stop for hot chocolate and smores before hiking back.  They have taken me fishing, while I bring a book, and enjoy watching them bring home dinner.  I love it when we go to the beach and play in the water, build sandcastles, and attempt to catch fish with our hands.  But, they love me too.  So, sometimes we find the free days at the museums and aquariums and learn about history and art for a day.  Zoos are great places to go as a family and spend time out in nature able to talk with each other.   Check out next week’s blog for more ideas on how to build your family relationships on a budget.

Re-set During #Socialdistancing

Man laying down on steps of building during daylight hours
Man laying down on steps of building

Before #socialdistancing exercise, eating right, and balance seemed much easier.  Motivation was easy – people see you.  Who wants to look like a louse in public? 

But as #socialdistancing extends, the leggings, carbs and time in front of the TV are preferable to almost anything else.  No one wants to look at the scale.

For kids with sensory needs, this is even more important as the sensory input of a workout resets the chemistry in the brain.  This helps with focus, self-control, and skill development.

Countless studies show exercise is critical to health.  But there is a developing field of study in how exercise actually helps impact the neuron pathways in the brain.  ABA, Occupational Therapists, even parents, can attest to the importance of a regular sensory workout program (SWP) in helping children with special needs, indeed all children, with coping, focus, and development.

How does one do this in the home?  When we can’t leave?

Here are some things that work for us.

Hanging out in the sensory room playing on the ropes, rock wall and rings.
Hanging out in the sensory room

Sensory Room

A sensory room is designed to help someone regulate their brain using external sensory input.  That is technical speak for “help re-center yourself.”  Sensory rooms have been shown to have calming effects, help improve focus, increase socialization, and help with all sorts of development (both neurological and physical.

We discovered this importance when our son was about five.  He needed a place to get all his wiggles out, calm down, and enjoy himself. 

Our room is the garage.  In this room, we have an art table, a basketball hoop, rock wall, ropes, and a punching bag. 

This room is a place where we presently do out occupational therapy, but when it is not used for therapy, it is also a “fort” (which every kid needs).  A sensory room grows with the child.  This room is the “hang out” place for playdates, it is the escape from parents when angry place, and a place for a great work out for parents place as well.

Ideas on how to create a sensory workout program
Ideas on how to create a sensory workout program

Sensory Workout

No one likes working out.  Even those who say they do – don’t.  They like the after-effects. 

That is true for our kiddos too.  Working out is hard.  But a necessity of life.

A sensory work out is not that different than a regular work out. I do recommend getting with your occupational therapist before starting one, as each work out is different depending on the person.

Usually, a workout will consist of some combination of proprioceptive (deep pressure to joints and calming/organizing), vestibular (excites, usually circulatory and rhythmic), touch, smell, breathing, and auditory input.  It does not usually go longer than 30 minutes and can be done easily at home or at school.

We have been known to do wall push-ups and squats in grocery stores, joint pressure at restaurants and them parks, and always have some sort of audio and smell for calming wherever we go.  We like citrus oils for focus before school ad lavender oils for calming after.

Sensory Tent
Sensory Tent

Sensory rest

Just as every fitness instructor will say a warm-up and cool down are important for every workout, sensory rest is just as essential for every person.

A 2018 study showed an average adult (18+ years old) spends over 11 hours a day looking at a screen.  That is 45.83% of the 24-hour day.  If you a lot for 8 hours of sleep (which we don’t usually get), that is 68.75% of our day in front of a screen!   Is it any wonder we need a reset?

In our house, we each have space and activity that works for us.

My husband goes on long runs and he and I will do a kickboxing or boxing workout on the punching bag at least once a week (sometimes more).

My son and I like to do yoga together.  The meditation and combination of proprioceptive and vestibular input are super calming.  I prefer something like YogaShred where he prefers the stories of Cosmic Kids Yoga.

We also both love heavy blankets! 

My son also has a tent in his room he often withdraws to where he reads, draws, plays with Lego. 

Workout gear

I know it is hard to feel settled during #socialdistancing.  It is hard during regularly scheduled programming as well.  Try and find some ways this week to help re-set.  Re-center. Refresh.  Let me know what  works for you and your kiddos or if you want some more ideas on how to use what you already have in your home to make a sensory diet.