HO! HO! HO! The holidays are coming and with them, the decorations, parties, presents, and visitors which ultimately disrupt your family’s rhythm and routines. How well your child reacts to these changes has a lot to do with how you manage these sometimes stressful situations. Fatigue, too much to do, too many changes, and unrealistic expectations are just some of the stressors which will take a toll on both of you, and sets the stage for children’s challenging behavior. The following tips will help you and your children enjoy the busy holiday season, and steer clear of the upsets that can ruin the experience for everyone:
· Stay organized
o Events around the holidays can be overwhelming, so remember to plan ahead. Be selective about the activities you choose for your child, making sure that your child is developmentally ready to handle the situation. For example, if you want a picture of your child with Santa, begin to prepare your child in advance by reading Santa stories, and explaining what your child will do when he or she sees Santa. Say “We are going to the mall, and have your picture taken with Santa. We will wait for our turn to see Santa. When it is your turn, you will sit on Santa’s lap and tell him about toys you like. Then, you will smile and the photographer will take your picture with Santa. Then we will say good-by to Santa”.
· Stick to the usual daily routine when possible
o The predictable day makes children’s lives easier because it provides a sense of order, but during the holidays, changes and special events often become disruptive to schedules. Keep in mind that it is best to keep to the basics of the day as possible-bedtime, naps, mealtimes-but when something disrupts your schedule, get back to it as soon as possible. Keeping your child well rested and fed will go a long way in preventing tears and meltdowns.
· Make time to spend with your child
o Providing extra love and attention helps to buffer stress and improves your child’s ability to cope with the excitement and the many disruptions of the holiday season. The greatest gift parents can give their children is their time. Don’t make the mistake of trying to create the perfect holiday experience-children quickly forget elaborate details, but will remember the time spent with you. Keep your holiday preparations simple, enlist your child’s help when possible, and have fun creating the holiday rituals that they will long remember.
· Accentuate the positive
o Always look for opportunities to reinforce the good behavior. Praise and a few hugs go a long way towards encouraging cooperation, developing a healthy self concept, and teaching your child new skills. The most effective praise is immediate, and specific, for example, “I like the way you helped me clean off the table”. Nothing else costs so little yet has such a life-long impact on children’s development.
by Dr Kathleen Armstrong, Univ of South Florida