The festive season is here, and for many parents that will mean school concerts and assemblies, crowds everywhere you go, family and friends visits, parties and celebrations, hectic travel plans and the anticipation of presents.
As fun as it sounds, it might also be a very tiring and anxious time, especially for younger children. Being thrown out of the balance and routine is always stressful, even if it is a good and positive stress.
So here are five tips for you to manage any meltdowns at home during the festive period:
1. Stick to routine
Of course it is unlikely that you can keep going with your usual daily routine, yet it is possible to sit down with kids and brainstorm the “Holidays routine”, where together you can set up rules about screen time, sweets, bed times and sleepovers with friends.
Make sure to include wind-down times in your schedule for children to rest and recharge. You know your children best – what do they need the most when they are stressed and anxious? Make sure you acknowledge the value of soothing activities and make time for them in the daily routine.
2. Plan ahead
Again, it is impossible to plan everything ahead and to know what you will be doing during the whole period of festivities, yet having at least a rough plan might be a very good idea, as children feel much better when they know the sequence of events and operate in a predictable world. Speak to them about visitors and guests, let them know when you are going to see great-grandma and how long that will take. Take into account the different personalities of your children and as much as you want to spend most of the holidays together, maybe leave a tired child at home to enjoy some quiet reading time, while taking the more outgoing one to see a show.
To avoid disappointment for yourself, be ready for plans to turn upside down and if that happens, just breathe and enjoy a cup of tea (or mulled wine).
3. Manage expectations
That’s a tough one. We’ve all seen the funny “expectations vs reality” memes and still have a perfect picture in our head of a beautiful family in matching pyjamas happily opening presents. Well, that’s probably not going to happen… AND THAT’S OK.
Start with yourself, and let your holidays be imperfect. Enjoy the imperfection. Be prepared for children to not react how you imagined to the most amazing presents and manage expectations of other adults too. Let them know that your child might not want to hug or kiss them in exchange for gifts or sweets. Let them know that your children are happy. No one should expect more than that from your child; you can only teach them to say “please” and “thank you.” Never compel a child to express affection in order to receive a present.
4. Look after yourself
This one is even tougher. But it is extremely important. You want to enjoy end of year celebrations, good company and wine but then have to be up at 5am with excited little children, looking fresh and joyful. Make sure you allow yourself time to balance it out, remember to stay hydrated, eat some healthy things and have your own down-time planned. You need to keep yourself responsive, responsible and resourceful, not reactive and exhausted.
Also, when family and friends’ are gathering it’s easy to fall into the trap of being embarrassed by your child’s behaviour – too loud, too quiet, not grateful enough, jumping on the couch or breaking family porcelain – anything could happen. Yet, these are exactly the times when your child needs you to remain composed so that you can help them calm down. It is important for us to have resources to do it and it is crucial that we take care of ourselves as well. Make sure you take time for yourself, and keep in mind that you are the best person to judge what your family needs because you are the one who knows them best.
5. Be prepared
Even if you follow all of the tips above, you will still need to be prepared for things taking a completely different turn. The smallest thing might trigger the biggest meltdown and the best we can do when facing the storm is to let it pass.
Be there for your child, without judgement and impatience, just let them know that you are with them calmly and patiently. Maybe they want a hug; maybe they don’t. Maybe they need some time on their own or want you to sit near them and hold their hand. It is all part of learning about themselves, their emotional world and the ways to self-regulate. Your calmness will help them regather and calm down too. And only then you can chat through the issue, decide what could be done differently next time and brainstorm potential solutions.
To sum it up, remember, that even though the holiday season is the most beautiful time of year, it may also be extremely stressful.
So aim to be flexible and have a strategy and plan, which might help reduce the emotional exhaustion and meltdowns that come with the holiday season.
Happy holidays to everyone!