November is upon us, and with it comes the joy of the holiday season. For the next couple of months, we’ll all be immersed in whatever holiday traditions are embraced by our families. With all the heightened emotions of anticipation, joy and excitement, however, comes a lot of stress. Patience, time management, awareness of others and more patience are in high demand as we stuff turkeys, bake cookies, shop for food and presents, prepare the house with cleaning and decorations, and finally celebrate the season.
As one can imagine, these stressors are felt by both parents and kids. We all want our children to experience the joys of celebration and build great memories, but our need as parents to get everything done can create a perfect storm which can certainly rock the boat and lead to heightened stress and behavioral challenges. It is important that we be conscious of ways to support our children and ourselves through this roller coaster time of year.
Listen to your child's needs
The added excitement of the season stresses your children’s resources and ability to manage emotions. They will likely be less attuned to situations in which they need to wait and more upset if their needs are not being addressed. Try to recognize and validate what your child needs BEFORE giving her the reason she will have to wait and be patient. Instead of, “Can’t you see that I’m busy making these cookies? You have to wait!”, try this instead: “I’d love to hear about your dinosaur, but I need to finish baking the cookies. What can you do while your waiting?” Just the direct assurance that she is being heard and that her needs will be addressed can often help build patience and frustration tolerance.
Manage your time
Routines and schedules are often disrupted during the holidays, so be sure to talk through or even make a visual schedule for the days and weeks ahead. Try to maintain basic routines as much as possible, and talk to your child when disruptions can be anticipated. Be sure to get input from your child on the things that are important to him. When there is the unavoidable need to drag him along for a shopping trip, talk about where you’re going, and plan something simple and fun for him at the end of the journey. Also, don’t forget that you don’t have to accept every invitation to every event; some down time can go a long way!
Make healthy choices
It’s easy to forget that we need to take care of ourselves as we hustle around to meet family obligations. Make room for the things that keep your batteries charged. Be sure you and your kids get plenty of rest, even if you literally have to schedule it. Nutrition is also important. With hectic schedules, it’s easy to fall back on fast food. Be conscious of the healthier choices available, and try to have at least one meal together each day. Sharing dinner around the table is a great way to encourage family bonding. To that end, remember that laughter IS the best medicine: Watch a funny movie, have everybody tell a joke, or do something silly or unexpected!
Be sensitive to changes
If your family is dealing with changes due to divorce, newly blended families or loss of a relative, it’s important to be sensitive to the expectations of your children. It can be reassuring for them that important family traditions continue to occur. Don’t feel obligated to compensate with extra gifts or special activities; what kids need is your genuine caring and love. Recognize that there may be poignant or uncomfortable moments. These can be tough but are also opportunities for shared emotional experience and support, which help to build resilience and relatedness.
Over the river and through the woods. With some planning and patience, the many hills and valleys of the season can be smoothed out and lead to wonderful joy and family togetherness. Happy Holidays!
Dr. Rick Clark is a licensed child psychologist at St. Francis Children's Center.