By Meaghan McClung
As a parent, I sometimes think of the holiday season with equal parts joy and dread. Of course, I’m excited about the family gatherings, the sharing of traditions, the gift giving, and the food! But I’m also a bit apprehensive. The high activity and energy level that the holiday season brings can also translate into over stimulation for children. As the adults around them get stressed about making plans and coordinating events, this stress trickles down the younger members of the family resulting in crankiness, temper tantrums and generally uncooperative behavior.
There are some tactics that parents and caregivers can use to help keep the holiday season festive instead of frantic:
- Let children know what events you will be attending that day, how long the events will last, and who will be there. Children appreciate this information! Knowing what to expect beforehand gives the child the chance to process and predict how the day will go, and allows them to approach new people and places with a sense of confidence.
- Don’t force a child to give affection. Pushing a child to hug someone unfamiliar to them sends the message that their body space and comfort level are not important. Before you arrive at the event, give your child some options for greeting friends and relatives if they feel uncomfortable or shy- waving, smiling, or saying hello are all acceptable choices. Giving your child choices helps him to feel that he has some control over the situation.
- Try to keep to regular sleeping and eating routines as much as possible. Tired and hungry children are not going to be on their best behavior. Keeping some healthy snacks in the car for long drives can help to counteract the effects of too many sugary treats.
- Don’t over schedule. Over scheduling=over stimulation. Over stimulation happens when a child is swamped by more experiences, sensations, noise and activity than she can cope with. When your child becomes over stimulated, she will find it very difficult to focus on anything, even things she would normally enjoy.
- Watch your own stress level. The holiday season is supposed to be fun! It stops being fun when we put unreasonable pressure on ourselves to create “The Perfect Holiday”. Your child isn’t going to remember the flawlessly wrapped gifts, or the precisely arranged table setting, or the 8 different side dishes that you prepared from scratch. She will remember the decorations you made together, and the songs you sang in the car, and the hot cocoa you sipped in front of the fireplace. Those are the kinds of experiences memories are made of. Give yourself permission to not be perfect and to just enjoy watching your child take in the wonder of the season.