Waldorf-Inspired Advice on Enjoying Time With Children Over the Holidays
Updated: Feb 3, 2022
Time and space for everyday magic creativity and togetherness may be the perfect balm for the stress of living in an increasingly changeable world.
While children look forward to the last day of school before the holidays with eager anticipation, as parents, our feelings may be mixed. Of course, we look forward to sharing the joy of the holidays with our children, but we can also feel apprehensive. We may worry about how to fill the days, make the holidays magical, or handle the increased social pressure this time of year can bring. We at Sunrise Waldorf School (SWS) turned to Nicolette Genier, owner of the Freya-Sophia Waldorf Store, for her advice. Nicolette has been actively involved with SWS since her three children attended. She now has grandchildren at the school. As someone with a rich understanding of Rudolf Steiner’s philosophies and Waldorf education (she has been passionate about Waldorf education since her teens) we thought she would be the perfect person to ask. Practice R&R (Rhythm and Reverence) With the final days of school approaching, as parents, our first instinct may be to frantically search for activities or play dates to fill the days. Nicolette, however, emphasizes Rhythm and Reverence. She said, “If you can bring Reverence into the day, and Rhythm into the day… that is the building of a good human.” Rhythm is central to Waldorf education, and it means having structure and predictability in each day. Nicolette explains Rhythm as, “Certain things that are the same every day – our bedtime routine, what we do when we wake up, a meal at the same time.” In the holiday season, Rhythm can include traditions that carry over from year to year. “Everyone does have traditions, and that’s what the children look forward to. These are things they can count on and gives rhythm and structure that’s really foundational for them,” Nicolette said. Finding rhythm in today’s world is not always easy, but every little bit helps. In his book, Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, Kim John Payne has a number of suggestions for very busy families. Ideas include telling children at bedtime what to expect the following day, or creating a predictable dinner schedule (Stir Fry on Monday, Tacos on Tuesday, etc.) Reverence is traditionally defined as showing respect for someone or something. To Nicolette, reverence is mixed with appreciation of the little moments, or little beings we may encounter every day – birdsong, or a spider in the house. She explained that Reverence is more demonstrated than taught to children, first by becoming aware of opportunities for it. She said, “You just notice the littlest things.” The next step is to model it. Nicolette shared how she removes an insect from the house with care, saying, “Oh, a little bug. Oh, you don’t want to be inside, do you? Here let me help you.” She will also stop in her tracks to really listen to the birds singing, saying to her grandchildren, “Oh, listen!” Some holiday traditions also provide opportunities to practice Reverence. Nicolette creates an atmosphere of Reverence on Advent by creating a reverent atmosphere. She slowly dims the lights in the room and begins speaking in a quiet voice. Eventually, the children pick up on the changed mood, and participate in it. She said, “It’s a little bit like Kindergarten. You start to feel the empty space fill… If you slow down enough and listen, you’ll be guided.” Look for Wonder Nicolette also suggests looking for everyday magic. She said, “There are miracles occurring in the winter, that’s for sure, and we have to look for them.” One way to do this is to go on nature walks with children, and let them take the lead. Nicolette explained, “If you let them determine the pace, they will show you things that you never saw… They just tell you amazing things.” Nicolette also loves celebrating questions, instead of answering them. She explained that when her grandchildren ask a compelling question, she says, “That is the best question!” Then she marvels at it, and feels the wonder of it herself. “The stars, you know what they are? They’re miracles,” she said. Embrace Boredom As parents, we all know that boredom can often lead to whining, or other challenging behaviours, so it can be tempting to find ways to avoid it at all costs. Nicolette recommends embracing it instead. She explained that reverence and wonder arise from empty space. She went on to say, “Boredom is just empty space, and it gives (children) a chance to use their imaginations.” In Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne calls boredom a gift, and suggests responding to complaints about boredom with “a single, flat response: ‘Something to do is right around the corner.’” For children who have a hard time playing independently, Nicolette said she may sit with them, and model how to play for a little while. She said that over time, they will start to play on their own. She also encourages parents to minimize the number of toys. She said, “If (children) have too many toys, they don’t bond with any of them, they just become a pile, and playing is stuffing everything into a box and dragging it somewhere else. Then it’s just piles of things, and they’re not really playing with the individual items anymore.” Similarly, Kim John Payne wrote, “Nothing in the middle of the pile can ever be truly cherished.” See Problems as Opportunities Parents know all too well that life with children, especially over the winter holidays, isn’t always smooth. Excitement, sugar, visiting relatives, changes in routine, and more, can all lead to upset, overwhelm, and other difficult emotions and behaviours. Though it can be challenging in the moment, Nicolette reminds parents to see these problems as opportunities for growth. She said, “We start to re-script based on our personal opinions of what our children need. Often, we’re trying to work out the things we never worked out ourselves and we’re trying to fix that in our children.” Instead, she encourages parents to see their children as teachers, and look inward when problems arise. Consider Celebrating 12 Days of Christmas For those who celebrate Christmas, Nicolette recommends extending the celebrations to the traditional 12 days (ending on January 6), instead of celebrating only on Christmas Day. Nicolette explained that spreading the celebrations out in this way helps to make Christmas more meaningful. She said, “If it’s over on the day the gifts are exchanged, then Christmas is about gifts.” She sees the time between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6) as a special time for creativity and togetherness. She encourages families to start small, and find activities that are meaningful to them. She said, “Start on a journey of inquiry – what could these days mean?” She shared that some families save gifts to open on each of the 12 days, while others explore a different theme each day. Other families focus more on creativity, for example making a wet-on-wet painting every day. Doing jigsaw puzzles together, and making collages to reflect on the past year are some other options. The Parenting Passageway blog shares still more ideas here. Consider Counterbalance This year, of course, has been incredibly stressful for everyone. As parents, in particular, we have navigated enormous challenges. Nicolette had some interesting advice in the face of all this upheaval – counterbalance. She said, “Everything that you’re noticing in the world that feels disturbing and wrong, just ask yourself, what would be a counterbalance to this? Instead of saying how do I stop it, or how do I protect myself, what would be a counterbalance to this? And most of us come to nature, gardening, artistic activities, being cozy at home, baking. You know, counterbalance counts, it really counts.” Seen in this light, even though it may be impossible to turn off the news for long, creating a home with Rhythm and Reverence, time and space for everyday magic, creativity and togetherness, may be the perfect balm for the stress of living in an increasingly changeable world.