The holidays are a wonderful opportunity to spend time with your family and see extended relatives that you may not visit with throughout the rest of the year. However, this season can also be a source of stress as parents want children to behave as perfect little sugarplums filled with sweetness and gratitude, but our children don’t always act they way we’d like them to. What can be done to help make this time of year calmer and more fun?
1. Keep the schedule as close to normal as possible. Young children especially need to have a sense of what their day will bring. When we have family in town or we travel to our family’s home, the schedule often changes dramatically. Keep bedtime, naptime, etc. as close to what is typical as possible. It is good practice during the holidays as well as everyday to let children know what the schedule will be so they know what to expect. Children may feel less secure at an unfamiliar family member’s home so knowing what they will be doing can make them feel safer. Forgive yourself if the schedule becomes different from what you are used to and know that when the family vacation is over it will become normal again.
2. Try to stick with your parenting priorities. Many times we feel judged by our family because they may parent differently from us. As a result, we often end up expecting more from our children than is appropriate to save us from judgment or embarrassment. Suddenly changing your parenting strategies can be confusing to children causing more misbehavior. Go over in your mind or on paper before the family vacation begins what your parenting priorities are so you can stay true to yourself. Watch your self-talk while you are with your family so it can stay positive and not self-disparaging. Remind yourself that you are constantly learning about current best parenting practices and that others may have different opinions about what works for children.
3. Expect that behavior could worsen. It is exciting for children to be in a new place or have guests come visit so they often can get less sleep or be too distracted by all the fun to eat. Temper tantrums may increase due to all of this stimulation. Make sure you allow for some time away from all of the excitement. If you are able to get away from all the activity with your child even for a little bit, this can help. Family members that are not used to young children may expect children to sit longer than is reasonable or engage in activities that are not age appropriate. Make sure that your child is able to have a mix of high energy and calm activities.
4. Help your children become familiar with the family they will see as much as possible. According to Dr. Laura Markham of Aha!Parenting.com, it is a great idea to print out pictures of the people your children will be seeing and make a little book for them. Before they arrive, they can become more familiar with these lesser-known family members by looking at the pictures and hearing your kind words about them.
Set the intention that the holiday visit or vacation will be fun and low stress before it even begins. Think about how wonderful it is that your children get to know their extended family and spend time with them. Following these simple guidelines can help to make this time even more special.