The holidays can bring big feelings to the surface for anyone, but this is especially true for children. Many children rely on a predictable routine to feel confident and safe, but the holidays can significantly disrupt that routine. For this reason, even positive events can cause stress in children. Often, children will need help to learn how to handle stress so that it doesn’t cause misbehaviour problems. Here are five tips that you can use this holiday season to keep the peace in your home.
Salvage as much routine as you can. Not only will your children be without their school routine, but they may also be travelling, visiting extended family, or staying home more often than they are used to. Try making a holiday calendar with the kids, so they know what to expect and when. Replace the school routine with a holiday routine, with outings, play dates, down time, etc, planned out ahead of time and happening at the same time every day whenever possible. Keep wake times and bed times the same except when it will cause you extra stress to do so. This will keep them well-rested, reducing problem behaviours, and will make the transition back to school easier.
Spend time connecting. Fill your children’s attention buckets in positive ways so they don’t try to get your attention by “acting out.” Try to have meals together, enlist their help in holiday preparations, and check in with them at bedtime to talk about their day. Use the holidays as an opportunity to emphasize the importance of spending time with family rather than focusing on extravagant gifts.
Listen to their big feelings. Find a quiet moment during the day or before bed to ask your children how they’re feeling. Listen in a non-judgmental, accepting way, and resist the urge to react or persuade. Trust your instincts – you’ll have a sense of whether they could use some professional help sorting through these feelings, or if talking it out with a parent is enough.
Be a role model. The holidays can be very stressful, but it can be easier with calm kids. Role model being calm to reduce everyone’s anxiety. Show your children how you keep calm in potentially stressful situations by taking a moment to take a few deep breaths and make a plan before taking action. If you can’t find your calm, consider taking some time to recharge.
Take care of yourself so you’ll have the patience to take care of the kids. Find time by asking for help from family and friends, or by setting up play dates. Use this time to get grounded and let go of stress (not to work on your to-do list!). Go for a walk in nature, meditate, practice yoga, take a bath, make some art, or do whatever has worked for you in the past to help you feel more at peace.
Any or all of these tips can help make the holidays a fun, relaxing time for your child or children. After all, isn’t that holidays are for?
-Written by Kara Morris, MA, RP, CCC Counsellor