Staying connected during the holidays can be in-person or virtual

Emily VanDeWalle, Extension Educator

The holidays are often a time filled with joy as many reunite with family or friends not seen on a regular basis.  Holiday gatherings are time to share special traditions such as favorite recipes, playing games, watching movies or just “catching up.”

This year might be particularly special since families may have been unable to gather last year due to COVID-19. Holiday gatherings help children, youth, and adults create social connection whether meeting face to face or virtually.  Intentionally building connections can make gatherings with family or friends more impactful.

According to an article published on Nebraska Extension’s ruralwellness.unl.edu website, “Research consistently tells us that taking care of others and maintaining meaningful relationships across generations are important for resilience and wellbeing.” (Bulling et al. 2020)

Meaningful relationships contribute to a sense of belonging and help us feel connected. These connections can be strengthened by sharing family stories and engaging in traditions among multiple generations.

With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, make sure to create time for meaningful connection with friends and family. Dr. Emma Seppala, the science director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, points out that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Studies also show connected people have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative.

Here are some fun and creative ways to connect to loved ones this holiday season.

Playing games together gives an opportunity to bond. Board games and playing cards can be played face to face or virtually.  If you are not able to physically be together, search online games to play with family members. Google, “free online games” and many options will appear. Be aware that if you download an app, there might be add-ons that cost money and it might take some time to explore what will work for you and your family. You can even play card games online at https://playingcards.io/.

Do an arts and crafts project.  It is a fun way to spend time with people you care about, especially for children. Arts and crafts projects develop creativity, create memories, and can be gifts for others.

During a holiday meal, have your child host “opening” and “closing” ceremonies.  These “opening” and “closing” ceremonies could include sharing a poem, pausing for a time of reflection, singing a song, performing a dance or telling a joke.

Baking and cooking together is a fun activity.  Not only can you make some tasty treats, but the holiday goodies can be shared with family, friends, and neighbors. Sharing food with someone can brighten their day.  

Send care packages for family or friends to enjoy.  For example, send hot cocoa packets and marshmallows, then enjoy hot chocolate while virtually watching a movie together.

Practice gratitude by writing down things you are grateful for and sharing with your friends and family.  Create a gratitude jar where everyone writes down something they are grateful for on a slip of paper then have each person take out a slip of paper and read the gratitude message aloud.

Create messages of kindness. Make yard signs or paint rocks with kindness messages and set them in special places to brighten someone else’s day.

These are just a few suggestions to help you create holiday experiences that help your loved ones connect with one another.  Making these connections for young people can contribute to their positive well-being and build resiliency.

More information and resources about youth social-emotional development can be found at www. 4h.unl.edu/supporting-young-people-through-change or by contacting the Otoe County Extension Office at 402-269-2301.

Brandy VanDeWalle is an Extension Educator in Fillmore County.