In the midst of all the fun, excitement and upcoming plans for the holidays, are you or your children feeling a bit stressed? I have revised this article that I wrote to parents a few years ago, and the topic continues to be pertinent. I hope you and your children can benefit from these reminders and help for the holidays.
Imagine this for children...
They get less sleep.
Sometimes, they skip naps or are awakened from them.
They are with new people they don’t know.
Their parents are busy and stressed and don’t have as much time with them and aren’t as patient.
They don’t get a voice in most of this.
And...their parents experience all these things too!
Sound like a nightmare? That is what the holidays are like for many children!
So, what can parents do to help their child enjoy the holidays and make it possible for parents to enjoy them too?
Here are a few realistic suggestions:
- Prepare your children: Talk about events before and as they are happening. When children know ahead of time and when parents acknowledge and verbalize this for children, it helps them process and it “normalizes” the situation for them.
Today, we will not go to school like we usually do; we will go back to school another day (or next week). Today we will go and make cookies with our neighbors. We will all work together to stir the ingredients and cut the cookies. Then we will wait while they are baking. That's when you and John will play. After that we will enjoy eating 2 cookies and putting them in bags for our friends.
- Be as consistent as you can with your child’s diet and bedtime: Whenever possible, honor your child’s bedtime and diet. Knowing it will not be possible to do this consistently throughout the holidays, please don’t be rigid about this; rigidity with children does more harm than good. You might offer to bring macaroni and cheese, fruit salad, chicken nuggets, their favorite food or something they like to the family dinner. You might bring the pajamas to Uncle Ali’s so you can put them on before you head home (This might avoid a melt-down when they get home and are exhausted, overwhelmed or overstimulated). You might start your family gathering an hour earlier than usual so you can end a bit earlier too. You might alternate evenings home and activities out, so your children can have a “normal” dinner and bedtime every other night.
- Talk about expectations: When you discuss expectations beforehand, children and adults have a better understanding. It is important to ask questions as a much as possible so your child has to do the thinking about their behavior and choices. It also helps if they have ownership instead of feeling “bossed around” again.
When we go to Grandma's house in Virginia, what do you think needs to happen to keep everyone safe? What kind of feet will we need to use in the house? What about our voices? What do you think would be the best voice to use in Grandma's house? Grandma has many pretty things on her tables. How can we keep those safe? What could you do if you wanted to touch or see one? Can you think of anything else that would be helpful for you to decide on while being at Grandma's house? And then when you finish that conversation, Wow! It sounds like you know just what to do! You have thought of and decided on many important things. I know Grandma will appreciate what you have decided.
- Take care of yourself: When you are rested and experiencing less stress, you will be a better mom or dad for your child. Acknowledge, accept and allow yourself to feel all the emotions that are often a part of holidays: excitement, exhaustion, anxiety, disappointment, anticipation, and even grief and depression can be part of the feeling aspect of the holidays. What fills your cup? Give yourself permission to get a massage, take a long walk, exercise, read, or have coffee with a friend. It’s self-care, not selfishness! When your cup is full; you are better able to fill everyone else’s.
- Give your child a voice and choice in family rituals and traditions: For children who have a part in family traditions and rituals, those times become meaningful, significant and important. When your children have important, purposeful roles in family rituals and traditions, it affirms their roles in your family and adds purpose and significance to their lives. The familiar repetition of a tradition or ritual brings meaning and connection to your family. For children, there is comfort in belonging and of course, there is a sense of wonder, magic, and celebration in many families. Ask for their ideas about parties, projects, traditions, trips or dinners; find out how they want to contribute.
What is something you want to include in our holiday traditions? What is your favorite part of our celebration? What food do you want to have on Friday? What do you want to happen at our neighborhood party?
When we go to Aunt Betty’s today and the adults are talking, what can you do to keep from getting bored? What can we do now to prepare for that? If you packed an “Aunt Betty’s Fun Box” what could you put in it to enjoy there?
Everyone is important in our family; what important part of our dinner do you want to help with—setting the table, washing the vegetables, writing the placecards, making decorations, or rinsing the silverware and putting it in the dishwasher? It is so helpful when everyone in our family has a part so thank you for helping and being an important part of our family..
Choices such as these are appropriate too, and giving limited choices helps:
Would you like to make a craft or game to play when your cousins come over to our house?
Would you like to learn a song or read a part of the service to share with our family?
Would you like to have apple cider or punch at the party?
Which shirt would you like to wear to Grandma’s—this blue one or the green one?
- Be Present. Make it your goal to be present and focus on ENJOYING every experience! That means you will put down your phone more and be flexible, laugh, smile, hug, and “roll with it” as you make family memories together. At the end of the day, it is time with you, making memories together that children value and remember most.
- Fix your mistakes: When you “blow it” and find yourself yelling, shaming, blaming and arguing, take time to cool off, come back to your adult self, and then do a repair with your child! Apologize, acknowledge YOUR part in the blow up, and talk about what YOU will do differently. Keep it simple and about you and your behavior. Now, you are ready to have a re-do!
The holiday season is a time for making wonderful family memories and experiencing pure joy together. It is a time to grow emotionally, socially and spiritually. It is a time to “kickback” and “chillax”, sleep in, play games, and read together. Most of all, it is a time to be grateful for the gift of your family. Let’s acknowledge that it can be a time with more stress too
These articles have been helpful to us so I am sharing them with you for continued reading:
More Meaningful December Traditions for Families: Note she says to just pick one or two so you won’t be creating more stress.