Holidays are a great opportunity to celebrate the uniqueness of your community and foster important emotional wellness in children. No matter the tradition, you can share the joys of diversity and differences with celebrations of your own. There are plenty of practical ways to foster inclusion and to share the ways differences of culture and tradition make families strong and kids healthy and happy.
How children benefit from celebrating diverse cultures and holidays
Besides being wonderful learning opportunities in themselves, there are important health impacts when a child is exposed to both their family’s and other families’ cultural celebrations.
All children from toddlers to teenagers can reap the benefits of a cultural holiday. Celebrating a cultural event or holiday with family or friends brings together the child’s loved ones, creates a positive shared memory, and contributes to the child’s sense of pride in their identity. These are important factors in self-image, self-esteem, and in reinforcing a sense of community.
Holidays and family celebrations can also be stress-inducing for parents and kids. This is especially true for families experiencing recent trauma, for example, from having lost a family member. Mental illness, financial instability, and food insecurity can play a role in making holidays stressful instead of celebratory for kids. See the section De-Stressing the Holidays below for more information about reducing the stress of holidays.
Even very young children benefit from the safety, comfort, and sense of identity these events can offer, according to early education nonprofit Zero to Three. Toddlers, who are still developing their sense of what it means to be an individual, learn that to celebrate their identity means celebrating themselves and what it means to be a part of a group.
Finally, children who learn about cultures besides their own build interpersonal skills, empathy, and compassion for differences. This is an important skill for their future, as well as a tenant of successful pediatric medicine according to the AAP.
Supporting Diverse, Healthful Holidays in Your Community
The first step to celebrating culturally diverse holidays at your practice is to get to know the traditions of your community. Whether you’ve been in the area for months or decades, there may be niches of the wider community that are new, changing, or growing.
Celebrations & Traditions
To discover these traditions, you can bank on your connections in online parenting groups, local schools, nonprofits, and community centers. These groups can help identify the diverse communities around you. For example, if you know that your city has a recently-opened church, temple, or mosque, or that the local schools make a point of celebrating the Lunar New Year, you can recognize that acknowledging and celebrating these traditions will be important for the families in your practice to feel both represented and connected.
There are many ways to celebrate diversity, and all of them can help patients at your practice feel recognized and valued, and support positive relationships between families and their medical home. Celebrations can be as subtle as thoughtful holiday greetings, such as “Shanah tovah” for Rosh Hashanah, or as vibrant as multicultural holiday events. If your practice wants to celebrate a holiday that differs from your own traditions, be sure to learn more before proceeding and act with compassion. Local community groups, schools, and even patients themselves can answer questions and help present options for age-appropriate information about many cultures and traditions.
De-Stressing the Holidays
Expectations around the holidays can cause stress in parents and children. Whether your families are worried about what the COVID-19 pandemic will mean for their holidays, or holiday stresses come every year for a sensitive child or caregiver, offering the proper support can help families enjoy a joyful, de-stressed celebration.
According to the AAP’s Healthychildren.org, pediatricians can ensure children have a happy and healthy holiday season in two ways: first, keeping up important routines, and second, celebrating in mindful, safe ways. Important routines to maintain include proper sleep and mealtimes, especially during school vacations, when it is easy to let routines slip.
Parents have a key role to play too. Stress can trickle down from parents to children, so physicians can offer parents important support during a stressful time. Ways to make the holiday less stressful for the whole family include resisting pressure to overspend on presents or parties, enjoying traditions such as cooking, baking, and decorating together, and fostering empathy and compassion in kids by volunteering as a family, whether that includes offering time, energy, or gifts to others.
Tweens and Teens
Tweens and teens may not always want to indulge in the traditions of younger children, but they can begin to enjoy different aspects of the holiday by becoming more involved in community and family efforts. While family traditions will remain important, older kids can begin taking new roles in cooking, volunteering, decorations, and gift-giving. They may even join in on the traditions of friends who celebrate a different holiday or tradition. Physicians can act as cheerleaders and guides in this transition to adult life, as adolescents explore their beliefs, identity, and the world outside their families. The holidays can also be stressful for teens’ emotional health, which is where their pediatrician can offer additional support as needed.
Diverse Holiday Traditions: Age-Appropriate Resources
There are many ways to help children feel both pride and curiosity about their own heritage, culture, and family traditions as well as others’. A great place to start is with media that’s age-appropriate and diverse. Whether you’d like to expand your practice’s bookshelf, arrange a holiday giveaway of movies and books, or send out a recommended reading list for your families, here are some resources to get you started:
Readbrightly.com offers a list of holiday books from diverse traditions, such as the Cherokee Nation’s word for “grateful,” the Mexican origin of the poinsettia, and the ancient tradition of the winter solstice. Your local PBS station also has short videos on holidays for younger kids. Don’t forget that parents should be checking which holiday movies are appropriate for their kids.
However your practice would like to welcome holidays and diversity in your community, it’s a key strategy for patient engagement and connection. Being represented and celebrated for their culture helps families know that their medical home cares about their child’s uniqueness and identity as much as their good health. As the winter holidays approach, it’s important to check in on patients’ mental health, too -- learn how your practice can upgrade your behavioral healthcare plan with our ebook.