"The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size." -- Albert Einstein
December is a great time to talk to kids about Open-Mindedness (being open to new ideas and different ways of doing things). The holiday season provides a natural opportunity to explore new ideas and new cultures. Here are five ways that parents can encourage their kids to explore open-mindedness this month:
1. ENCOURAGE YOUR KIDS TO TRY A NEW FOOD.
There's lots of food around the holidays that may not be around your house the rest of the year. Candy canes, egg nog, and latkes come quickly to my mind. Trying new foods is a good opportunity to start simply.
Trying new things can make anyone nervous. When helping kids learn to embrace new things and ideas, it's great to give them practice on something easy so that they can build their skills for later when they need to be open-minded in a bigger way. For younger kids, it may be helpful to point out that even their FAVORITE food was new once, and if they had never tried it they'd never know how much they like it. Put the emphasis on the trying, not on the result. Even if you don't like something you try, at least you know for sure. And if you're lucky, maybe you'll have a new favorite. You could start with things that are holiday-specific and may be new to your kids (latkes, egg nog, candy canes, etc.).
2. ENCOURAGE YOUR KIDS TO TRY A NEW ACTIVITY.
As the year winds down so do a lot of sports seasons and the school semester. Before the new semester at school starts, it may be a good time to talk to your kids about their after school activities. Which ones are they loving, and why? Are there new ones they have wanted to try out? Is there one that's not working for them anymore? Talking about what we do and don't like about the things we are familiar with can help us know what to look for in something new. Now is a great time to look for something new to try, even if you can't start it until the new year.
As with trying new foods, the experience of trying new activities is good practice for later in life. We all find ourselves in a new environment, not sure of what to do, at some point in our lives. It may be high school or college, or maybe it's that first holiday party of a new job. The more times your kids are able to be new at something and feel the success of making new friends and learning new skills, the more confidence they will have in the bank for handling those times in the future that can sometimes seem daunting.
3. TALK ABOUT YOUR FAMILY TRADITIONS AND INVITE THEM TO START NEW ONES.
Your kids probably know the details you want them to know about the holiday you celebrate at this time of year. If you're Christian, they probably know who Santa is; they probably know who Jesus is; and what Christmas is celebrating. I'm guessing they've heard the words "manger," "Bethlehem," and "wise men." Do they know where the tradition of the Christmas tree comes from? Do they know what candy canes represent? Do they know why your family does the things you do and follows the traditions you follow?
As you sit down to talk to your kids about the what's and why's of this holiday season, ask them if they know of any OTHER traditions that maybe they heard about from a friend. (I have a friend who bakes a birthday cake on Christmas Eve, and her kids sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus.) Ask them if they would like to start a NEW tradition in your home. Maybe doing arts and crafts together, singing carols, volunteering somewhere, or baking cookies for people. Maybe they want to create a hand-made gift or card and give that out to people this year. When my youngest brother was in elementary school, his tradition was to go to the dollar store to buy presents for all his older siblings (we are between 8 and 29 years older than he is). They became the present we all looked forward to because each one had a connection and a story behind it.
Sit down and brainstorm with your kids. Be open to trying something new, and see what your they come up with. Then pick something and see if maybe it will grow into a new tradition.
4. TALK TO THEM ABOUT OTHER HOLIDAYS OR ABOUT HOW DIFFERENT FAMILIES CELEBRATE THE SAME HOLIDAY.
A big part of open-mindedness is learning that "different" is not automatically "bad." One good way to do this is to explore and celebrate the way other people celebrate.
One way to do this would be to find out how friends celebrate the same holiday differently. My family always celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. Some of my friends got one big present on Hanukkah, we got eight little ones and we had to find them around the house! I liked trying to get my dreidel to spin for as long as possible, but I didn't know what the letters on the sides meant until a friend told me, and I had never seen the full game until I was an adult and watched some friends "gambling" with dried beans and a dreidel. And every latke recipe I've ever tasted is different.
Encourage your kids to find out how their friends do holidays differently. Do they celebrate the same or a different holiday as you? Do they use the same or different decorations? Do you have the same meals? If you and a friend both celebrate Christmas, does either family go to Church?
If you want to take it further, set aside some time and go on an internet hunt together to learn about a holiday your family does NOT celebrate. Find out together what it's about and where it came from. Learn what food is part of it, what games. Maybe see about trying out some of the games.
Ask your kids if they know anybody who celebrates another holiday. Encourage your kids to ask their friends questions. Maybe your Jewish child has a friend who celebrates Christmas, is it okay to give that friend a Christmas present? Would it make sense to give them a Hanukkah present?
Allow the exploration to open up conversations about how people are different, and how that's okay. It's also a great time to explain that "this is what we believe" and "that is what they believe." It's okay for them to know why you celebrate different holidays. Accepting that other people have another set of beliefs does not mean you have to follow those beliefs.
5. GIVE YOUR KIDS A WINTER BREAK CHALLENGE.
Winter break is a break from the regular routine, a chance to recharge and rest. The change in routine can also be a chance to try something new. Help your kids pick a challenge over winter break. Help them identify what they want to do, set a couple goals about it, and then encourage them as they work to achieve it. Be sure to help them set a realistic goal something they can do in the two to three weeks they have off. Also be sure to have them include a celebration of some kind when they meet the challenge. Here are a couple ideas. There are lots more to choose from, but these may help get you started:
Try one new food every day for two weeks. Keep track of which ones I liked and didn't. (Variation: specifically try a new fruit or new vegetable each day)
Read a book (or a certain number of books) over the break.
Give up (all or some) screen time. What would it be like to disconnect for awhile?
Practice for a sport, club, or musical instrument they already do. Pick a specific skill or song to focus on and commit to a little bit of time every day.
Kristin Quintana is the Owner and Chief Instructor of Kuk Sool Won of Menlo Park and has helped thousands of kids, teens, and adults to embrace a positive and healthy lifestyle.