For many of us, we are smack-dab in the middle of the holiday season and everything feels like it’s speeding up. Days seems to zip by and the pressure is on – to do more, give more, make more, be more. It’s overwhelming! But once-upon-a-time it wasn’t so. I remember holidays fondly, getting together with family, tasty meals, beautiful decorations and even some presents! I didn’t notice my parents in the background, always running, from October through the New Year. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t revel in the season as I did…but I could sense their stress.
As our current holiday season flies into full-swing, I am cognizant of my own stress levels and how they affect my two little ones. Those feelings of “Go! Go! Go!” are persistent as I prepare my little family for more travel and visits (after just returning from travel and visits not two weeks ago!) But I am also cognizant of how my stress was affecting my small people – shorter fuses, more hugs needed, a general sense of excitement mixed with anxiety. I want my children to get to experience the joy of the holidays as I did, but also, I want to help ease them through this season of expectations.
So today, I’m sharing some things I do to help lessen holiday stress for my little ones, with the added bonus of lessening stress on me as well.
Stick to your rhythm – now is not the time to make drastic changes in your daily rhythm. Even while traveling, try to stick to the same basic rhythm of the day (example: breakfast, outing, lunch, quiet time, afternoon activity, dinner and bedtime routine). When you do need to go holiday shopping or would like to attend a holiday even with your little ones, try to schedule it during a time where you child expects to be out, such as the morning, rather than during quiet time. If most things remain in rhythm, your child is more likely to handle the not-routine event more easily and with less stress.
Think small – as an adult you may be ready to jump right in to decorating, but try to think small. Decorate in stages, allowing your child to interact with their newly changing landscape. If you have small children, save beloved breakables for years to come when your child is old enough your treasures won’t be broken – this simple step will save both you and your child a lot of worry.
Process, process, process - especially important for the younger crowd, knowing what is coming and what to expect is paramount for toddlers, preschoolers and beyond. Talk to your child about what your week looks like. Describe what will happen at any unique events. Be prepared to go over the same information again and again.
Another good way to process the holidays with your child is to create a family calendar using pictorial representations of upcoming events for the little ones that are not yet reading.
Finally, social stories help ground events in a more approachable and understandable context for children. Peter Spier’s Christmas, Counting to Christmas, or even I Can’t Wait Until Christmas all go through the process of preparing specifically for the Christmas holiday. For children who respond better to audio books, we like this series for our little ones, and refer back to individual stories time and again.
Unplug – we certainly understand how challenging this can be, but phone calls, texts, computer time, and even holiday movies all can add up to a stressed parent and a little one looking for a touch more attention. If you need to do something digitally, try to limit your screen time by focusing on the task at hand (no multitasking here!) and then unplug for the rest of the time with your little one. Alternately, designate a full weekend day to being completely unplugged and enjoy some good-old family time, which can be everything from family chores, reading, games, cooking – the list goes on.
Say no thanks – you do not need to attend every holiday event, party and social get-together that is offered during the season. Pick a few that you know you and your little ones will enjoy and politely decline the rest. Building in “at home” days or afternoons give both little ones and grown-ups time to recharge.
Prepare for the after-holiday lull – finally, make sure to talk to your child about what happens once the holidays are through. What are you looking forward to? Is there a special project you can save for that time? The after holiday vacuum can be just as disconcerting as the current onslaught of cheer and forward momentum. Thinking ahead and preparing a few projects can help with the transition out of the holiday season.
These are a few main things that I try to remember during the holidays, though I am sure there is much more that can be done to help ease the stress of the holidays for little ones. What tips do you have for helping your kids make it through? We’d love to hear your ideas!