The first 24 days of December are viewed for many as the official countdown to Christmas. Some communities refer to this time as advent. The word “advent” simply means the coming or arrival of a notable person, event or thing – in this context, the coming of Christmas.
Advent is a time of preparation for the holiday season. For some this means spending time reflecting on the spiritual; for most the preparations also involve shopping, finding gifts, wrapping, planning meals, attending events, and anticipating holiday traditions with friends and family. This is the busiest time of year for most retail businesses, and the marketing campaigns are intense. The media focus on consumerism can create pressures and expectations for children and families. These can be overwhelming! There is also an emphasis in our holiday culture on being good in order to get what you want. Children hope that their achievement and behaviour have been satisfactory so that their wishes will come true. Meanwhile the disruptions in routine, increased sugar intake, and stress from the season make it challenging for many children to follow through. In our work at Art as Therapy we find that the holiday season can be difficult to navigate for some families and parents may notice that challenging behaviours may return. The pressure to “be good” emphasizes the idea that children are valued and rewarded for their achievement or behavior rather than for who they are as a person. For a child with low self esteem, this idea can be completely overwhelming and can reinforce negative self talk that they are not worth love or not good enough.
At Art as Therapy, one of our main goals is to build self esteem. We use a strengths-based approach because we believe that a person’s worth comes from within. Simply being who they are makes every person worthy of acceptance, connection, and being a part of healthy relationships. Rather than beginning the conversation with what our client can or can’t do, we begin by asking about what our client is like. What do they enjoy? Where do they really shine? What were they like as a baby or toddler? This gives us a sense of who they are, and provides a glimpse of some of their inner strengths. When self esteem is built on the foundation of who a child is rather than what he or she does, it becomes strong enough to weather stressful times and blips in good behaviour. When children feel appreciated and accepted for their inner qualities they are empowered to behave differently, and know that it will be okay if they have an “off” day. Building an internal sense of worth and acceptance results in external behaviour shifts.
This advent season, we wanted to find a creative way to share this idea with children and families. We decided to do this by focusing on kindness for our countdown to Christmas. If you come to our Orangeville office, you will see our Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar (there’s a photo with this post). The calendar has a little envelope for each day leading up to Christmas, and inside the envelope is a suggestion for a random act of kindness to be completed by the child who opens the envelope. We were inspired by the chalk board layout over at www.betweenyouandmeblog.com and our list of random acts of kindness came from www.muminthemadhouse.com. If you want to try this at home, check out http://www.frugalcouponliving.com/25-homemade-advent-calendars/ for lots of DIY advent calendar ideas, and feel free to come up with your own list of random acts of kindness! Make it a family activity to create the list together. Include people and places in your community that are meaningful to you!
So what’s the connection between advent, self esteem, empowerment and kindness? We chose advent as a way to show families that they have the power to shift the focus of the season despite commercial or cultural messages. We chose to focus on kindness because we believe that kindness comes from a place of empowerment and builds a sense of inner worth. Kindness makes the giver and the receiver of the act feel good. The positive feeling created in the giver is an altruistic one – it’s about being able to practice empathy and imagine what something may be like for someone else (see our post about the danger of the single story for more ideas about developing empathy in kids: http://artastherapy.ca/sharing-stories-art-therapy-and-watching-movies-as-a-family/). After reflecting on someone else’s experience, acts of kindness allow children to practice generosity by giving something to meet a need. Acts of kindness reinforce what the giver has to offer, which also helps the giver to practice gratitude (check out our previous blog post here for more info about the power of gratitude: http://artastherapy.ca/the-power-of-gratitude-and-3-creative-ways-to-practice-it/). Empathy, generosity and gratitude all contribute to healthy self esteem because they reinforce who the child is in connection to others and what they have to offer to those around them.
Shanetia Clark and Barbara Marinak are researchers from Penn State Harrisburg who strongly believe and have evidence to support that bullying in schools can be confronted through programs that teach kindness. Clark and Marinak describe kindness as “the antithesis to victimization”. Kindness is a very powerful way to break a cycle of negativity and to build new positive connections. Being kind requires that the giver of kindness steps out of their comfort zone and uses their inner strength and power to reach out to someone else. This act of courage can heal relationships. It is empowering for people to see that they can create change and can make themselves and others feel good. And the best part is that anyone can be kind, no matter the ability, challenges, or adversity they may face.
But just like any other quality, kindness requires practice. So will you join us this holiday season as we count down to Christmas with acts of kindness? Art as Therapy is grateful for the opportunity to make connections and build relationships in our community. We are thankful for the generous professionals and service providers who share their knowledge and offer support in our community. We are grateful for our clients and their families, and for the opportunity to journey with them as they discover their inner strengths and build healthy relationships. We are thankful for each one of you – our extended community, who share ideas with us and offer feedback. We wish to bring kindness as we build each of these connections. This holiday season, we also wish to express our gratitude. Thank you for being you!
To check out our advent calendar and pick up a suggestion for an act of kindness, come visit us at M-18 15 Elizabeth Street, Orangeville ON. For more information about art therapy, call 1-519-307-9000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy holidays from Art as Therapy!
Written by Rubi Garyfalakis, Art Therapist at Art as Therapy.
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