The holidays aren’t always how they appear in film or television.
Of course there’s the typical seasonal stress adults go through - prepping for family gatherings, buying and wrapping presents, attending children’s recitals, decorating the home, dealing with the in-laws...
And then there’s our kiddos.
While it’s easy to romanticize this time of year for little ones, it can also be stressful and anxiety inducing.
Many children are used to routines, which are completely disrupted during the holidays. Bedtimes go out the window, typical meals are swapped for different foods, and many kids can be sensitive to the stress that occurs between family members. There’s a ton of new faces and pinched cheeks, loud noises and long trips. All this can be super unsettling for children, which can lead to big emotions and unwanted behaviors.
Sure that family photo posted on facebook looks peaceful, but little do your followers know it actually took 35 takes with lots of arguing in between.
While we’ll never remove all the seasonal stressors completely, there are some simple ways to help your child have an enjoyable and fun-filled holiday. These small but purposeful tips can lead to more cherished memories and quality family bonding time.
1. Be Kind To Yourself
Kids are incredibly observant of their environment. Just as they learn language by absorbing it from their parents, they also pick up their emotions. Kids can sense stress and anxiety and, in turn, might act out.
So while there might be tons of pressure to create that “picture perfect” holiday, remember to take care of yourself! Prioritize what's important and take the time for self-care, whatever that entails. Maybe it means taking a nap when your toddler naps, or cutting back on scheduled activities. A calm parent helps lead to a calm child.
2. Maintain a Routine
Children are creatures of habit. So when everything changes, even if for only a few days, our kiddos can have difficulty adjusting.
This is especially true when there is new family visiting, or if you’re traveling to another home or city. New people and places can be overwhelming, so maintaining some semblance of a child’s typical daily routine can help reduce stress.
Here’s a few tips: Try to stick to your child’s normal bedtime routine and keep the same bedtime hour. A well rested child will do better navigating new experiences. If you’re traveling, make sure to pack a few of your child’s favorite toys, snacks, or books. These cherished items from home can make a new environment easier to manage.
3. Be Mindful of What They’re Eating
Who isn’t guilty of overeating and indulging on the holidays? While it’s a time to treat ourselves, it’s important to watch what your kiddos consume. All those sugar and sweets can get out of hand real quick!
At the same time, if you’re traveling or away from home, you may not always have access to the types of food your child typically prefers. Many kids are picky eaters - they struggle to try new foods and have a limited dietary repertoire. It’s tempting to simply give in and let a child eat nothing but fast food and sweets rather than battling with a toddler.
Remember, it can take nearly 20 times for a child to accept a new food. Offer small portions of new foods. Take the time to describe the food, demonstrate eating them yourself, and allow your child to explore. The holidays can be a perfect time for children to observe their family eating new foods they might normally refuse. By providing a positive model, your little one may become a bit braver about their food choices!
4. Keep Kids Active
As adults, many of us crave the relaxation that comes with the holidays - whether that’s television, a good book, or just some alone time. But for children, this much downtime can lead to frustration and boredom. Kids need time to play and expend energy.
Make sure to build time into their holiday to run around outside. Maybe this means taking a walk to see all the decorated homes in your neighborhood. You can use this as a language learning opportunity by asking your child to describe what they see: “Wow that tree is lit up with red lights! Do you see it?” This can help decrease their stress and make sticking to those bedtimes easier.
5. Make Lasting Memories Together
In the rush to make things perfect, we often forget to take time to actually enjoy the holidays. For many, this means scheduling every minute of the break. Just make sure to block off some time to experience things with your little one.
For example, you could bake a cake together. Not only could it become a holiday tradition, but it’s an opportunity to work on language skills like following directions. Getting them involved in the preparation also helps with vocabulary building with words like “mix,” “pour,” or “stir the cookie dough.”
What might feel like a tedious task for an adult could be an exciting new activity for a child. These holiday rituals can become part of their annual routine and will give them something to look forward to each year.
6. Designated Quiet Spot
Just as adults need some quiet time to prevent being overwhelmed, so do our little ones.
For some, this holiday season might be the first time they’ve gathered with extended family and friends. It can be sensory overload for many children. Unfamiliar faces, places, and sounds can often lead to a tantrum.
Before all this hustle and bustle begins, make sure to identify a place in your home where your child can get away and have some downtime. Even if you’re visiting family, finding a corner where they can sit with a few of their favorite toys may help them recharge. While it’s a simple trick, it can often decrease those frustrated tantrums when it gets too loud or crowded.
7. Giving Back
It is never too early to get kids involved in helping others. Maybe it’s helping shovel the snow from a neighbor’s driveway, or bringing an elderly neighbor some of the cookies that you baked together. Acts of generosity, especially during the holidays, can help a small child begin to understand the importance of sharing.
The holiday season means something different to everyone. If you have a small child, it’s a chance to create a positive experience that they will look forward to every year.
It goes without saying that it’s been a difficult few years for many families who’ve experienced a lot of change. Maintaining a routine, including your child in some holiday preparation, and taking time to enjoy each other’s company and relax can help your little one experience the true meaning of the holidays.