‘Tis the season for celebration! For many of us, that will mean focusing celebrations on our children. But across religious and spiritual traditions, we have come to celebrate the season in pretty much the same way: by buying things for our loved ones. While it is lovely to give and to receive gifts, this is just one of many ways to celebrate. This holiday season, we hope you will join us in celebrating the whole child, in more memorable ways than a gift exchange.

What does that mean? The term “whole child” comes from education – teachers, parents and other educators recognize that a packed brain is only one step on the path to a rich education. In addition to the “head,” the term whole child encompasses the heart, the body and also the spirit. Schools that take a “whole child” approach often include emotional development, physical education, enrichment classes and service learning in their curriculums.

We can all learn from this approach, especially during the holiday season. The first step to celebrating your whole child is to work to accept, respect and love every aspect of your child, even those aspects that can be challenging (especially if your child struggles with health concerns or emotional issues!) Can you love your child’s idiosyncrasies? Can you accept your child for who he or she is at the core of their being?

Then, how can you express this unconditional love and acceptance? One important way is by transforming your holiday traditions to your child and not expecting your child to transform him or herself to meet your holiday expectations. We’re not saying that you have to give up your traditions! Only, ask yourself why you expect everything to be just so. Is it because you want to pass along important parts of your culture and your past to your child, or is it because you feel the need for a certain holiday appearance? If it’s the second, maybe it’s time to ask which parts of your traditions celebrate your family and which parts actually take away from this celebration.

mainPics_3Finally, consider what you can do together rather than what you can have. Studies show that experiences, not possessions, are more meaningful, memorable, and create more connection and happiness than things you could own.

To celebrate your whole child this holiday season, ask how you can celebrate together.  Are there new traditions that might be especially meaningful to your child? Find ways to enjoy music and art together, or a special outing, or a way to give back to the community and those in need. These special efforts will be the best possible gifts to your whole child, indeed to your whole family.

Sheri Brisson
Sheri Sobrato Brisson is a brain tumor survivor who discovered the importance of self-reflection during her recovery. From her personal illness experience and a dozen years supporting families and children with serious illness, her life’s philanthropic mission is to empower families and children facing serious illness. She has started and facilitated support groups for children with illness and their families for over twenty years with organizations such as the American Cancer Society, National Brain Tumor Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, and Packard Children’s Hospital. She has served as Board Member for many children’s health nonprofit organizations including American Cancer Society San Jose, UCSF/Mt. Zion Auxiliary, Creighton Health Institute, and Okizu Foundation. Brisson received her master’s degree in counseling from Santa Clara University and her undergraduate degree in human biology from Stanford University.

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