Merry and Bright
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This time of year is filled with excitement and anticipation, especially for children. Adults go to great lengths to create memorable moments for kids during the holiday season. And if those efforts end with a child in tears or a tantrum, it can be exasperating for parents. A few guidelines may help holiday plans remain a pleasant experience for parents and children.
First, stick to routines as closely as possible. Kids like predictability. Daily routines provide a sense of security and sameness that children find reassuring. Consistency with evening mealtime and bedtime can counteract daytime stress.
Keeping end-of-day routines helps children relax and transition to bedtime. Although staying up late for holiday events is appealing to children, a tired child is more likely to be irritable. Helping children stay well rested is especially important during the holidays.
Also, give advance notice. Discuss holiday plans with children well before the occasion. Explain the purpose of the event, particularly if there is cultural or religious meaning. Many families have traditions this time of year that define the family identity and provide a sense of cohesiveness. Make sure children understand the significance of plans and why certain events are more important than others.
As parents, we “get ready” for events in our minds in advance. Allow kids the same lead time.
Emphasize processes, not products. Kids like to be a part of all holiday preparations. This is where memories are made. Structure baking, cooking, decorating and wrapping so children can take part. Does it matter if gifts were not-so-neatly wrapped with the help of a preschooler, or if cookies are decorated with the artistic flair of a 10-year-old?
Stay focused on shared activities and family traditions.
Limit screen time, including television and video games. As parents get busy with demands on their time, it’s easy to let children spend more time watching television or playing video games. Television commercials and programming this time of year can rev up an already over-stimulated child. Physical activity and interaction with peers helps keep children on an even keel emotionally.
Watch for cues. Kids let you know when they are reaching their limits. Too much excitement, boredom or fatigue can all lead to meltdowns. Be sensitive to your child’s cues they have had all they can handle. Leaving an event early, or taking a child to a quiet area to regroup, can be smart moves. Young children in particular don’t do well at large gatherings or prolonged outings. Consider turning down some invitations or getting a baby-sitter and allowing children to remain at home.
Let kids take the lead. The following anecdote is from Jennifer Birckmeyer’s article “Holidays: Happy or Hectic.” It illustrates how letting children take the lead is often the best way to ensure a good holiday experience.
“I remember well one Christmas when one child, who was 3 at the time, had a strong sense of possession about her Christmas stocking. No one else was allowed to hold it, and she clearly was uneasy about some jolly old elf tampering with it while she was asleep. Asked if she would like to fill it herself, she replied she would. A small batch of treasures was produced, which she carefully (and without playing with) stuffed into her stocking and then went to bed. She was delighted to find them “yackly as I put them” the next morning and apparently her pleasure in her gifts was not diminished by the fact that she had seen them all the night before. The moral may be that we can trust children and bend our interpretation of how rituals should be carried out to meet their needs.”
Go ahead with those plans to create a happy holiday experience. Enjoy what this time of year has to offer. Involving children in the holiday process, keeping them rested and following their cues can give you memories “yackly” like you wanted. ■
Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Write to them in care of email@example.com. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being. To comment on this article, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.