Holidays stress is upon us!
Later today, my kids and I will be decorating a Christmas tree for my husband. We’re looking forward to it as we have many ornaments packed away that each remind us of special relatives, friends, family times, and events. But it wasn’t always this way, and I remember how stressful holiday times can be for parents of young children. So as a reminder to parents who are already stressing over holiday plans and whether their children will have meltdowns while at Grandma’s, here are some tips that may help you:
Keep Your Child in Their Routine as Much as Possible
- Create a calendar or routine for them for the holiday break. Each night, review the next day’s plan(s) with your child. Each morning, remind your child of the day’s plans.
- Keep your child in their sleep routine as much as possible.
- Remember that many of our kids do not do well with changes in routine or unexpected changes in plans.
Don’t Schedule Too Much
- Some mothers tell me that they tell their child, “We’re going on errands… we have to go to A, B, C, and D this afternoon” but they haven’t actually worked out the order of errands so that they can tell their child in advance. If you don’t have a clear plan, you can’t prepare your child, so make sure you’ve done your planning.
- If you really can’t be sure of a plan, you can prepare your child by saying something like, “I’m not sure which we will do second – we’ll decide after the first one, okay?”
- Don’t plan too much for one day. Planning to take your child on four errands is most likely a suicide mission, as few children can handle that much running around. Do you really need to take the child on all those errands?
Remember to Schedule “Down Time” for Both Your Child and You
- Too much stimulation can lead to behavioral and emotional dysregulation, an increase in tics, and all kinds of symptom exacerbation – on your part as well as theirs!
- If you really need to take your child on so many errands, plan some breaks between errands and tell your child about the planned break in advance, e.g., “After we get done with the second errand, how about if we take a break and go get some pizza?”
Be Prepared to Cut Errands or Outings Short
- If you see your child is getting over-stimulated or over-tired, quit while you’re ahead.
- Give the child a graceful explanation, e.g., “I thought I could do this all, but you know what — I’m exhausted. Let’s go home.” Yes, it means you didn’t get everything done, but if you’ve prevented a meltdown, that may outweigh the benefits of the errands. You’re also teaching your child to monitor themselves and to recognize that when they’re too tired, they need to rest, even if it means changing plans.
Prepare Grandma (or Grandpa, or the Aunts and Uncles)
When the children were toddlers, the family probably cooperated helpfully with child-proofing their home before you came to visit. Somehow, that helpfulness eroded over time and all of the objects that can get broken or handled inappropriately made their way back to tables and mantles. Rather than spending the whole visit worrying that your child will touch or break a precious family heirloom, ask your relatives to help you prevent trouble by removing objects that either trigger compulsions or too much curiosity that cannot be resisted.
If they say no, tell them that you will be unable to enjoy the get-together if you have to spend all of your time and energy worrying about what might happen and then repeat your request.
If they still say no, tell them that you will have to reconsider whether your family can join them.
Whether to take your child into a setting that sets them up for failure and criticism by family members who won’t be proactive is a difficult decision. It’s your choice, but frankly, if my family were that unsupportive, I’d rather stay home or suggest that we hold the get-together at my house where I can prevent problems.
Keep Your Own Expectations (Reasonably) Low
If you’re still clinging to the fantasy of a perfect family get-together where your children are perfectly behaved and everyone gets along, you’re likely to be disappointed. Set your goal for something more reasonable such as “If by the end of the day, I haven’t killed my kids, I’ll consider this a good day.”
Eventually, you will have the happy family get-togethers. It just may not be this year. And in the long run, what is it that you want your children to remember? How they got dragged around and stressed out by the family or how Mommy was screaming at everyone – or how they got to spend some time together enjoying each other?
One of the things my family used to enjoy doing over the Christmas break was to bundle up warmly and go down to the beach to take a long walk and to see what “treasures” we could find, including shells we would bring home. The fresh air and exercise were great, the kids could run around, and we’d all be happy to come home to a warm house and make cocoa while we looked through the “treasures” we collected. To this day, my children still talk about those walks.
Keep it Short. Keep it Simple. Create Your Own Traditions. Quit While You’re Ahead.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all readers.
Image credit: Dreamstime