By Denise Yearian
For many families, the holidays are accompanied by a long list of activities, events and preparations that can leave them feeling frazzled and fatigued – and children are no exception. If the season’s clamor and commotion are creating chaos and adversely affecting your child, consider these 10 tips:
1. Recognize the reasons. There are a number of reasons why children get keyed up during the holiday season. First, there is an underlying energy and excitement your child feels but may not totally understand. Second is an altered environment, including evergreen trees and other decorations and media type. Third is the duration of the season – a week can seem like an eternity to a child. Fourth and most important is a change in routines. Often adults are so busy trying to cram things into their days, that they alter their child’s schedules. What was once safe and predictable may, for a season, be filled with inconsistency and unfamiliarity. And for youngsters trying to make sense of it all, this can lead to insecurity, over excitability and unwelcome behaviors.
2. Consider the past. Children deal with routine changes based on their age, temperament and personality. Look at what has and hasn’t worked for your child and align your expectations with that.
3. Watch for stress. Overexcitement is natural this time of year and may manifest itself in a variety of ways. If your child is experiencing an upset stomach, headache, clinginess, regressive behaviors, insomnia or is belligerent take a step back and think about what he’s trying to tell you: “I’m tired,” “I’m confused,” “I don’t understand why things are different,” “I want attention.” Then do what you can to keep his world as calm and consistent as possible. If you are in public and notice he’s having a difficult time or is challenging adults, be willing to leave before the behavior spirals out of control.
4. Maintain rituals and routines. If you know it’s going to be a busy day, keep some rituals, such as mealtime and bedtime routines, intact. Or, if one day is hectic return to a normal schedule the next.
5. Schedule down time. On busy days and late evenings, try to build in down time during the day. Let your child watch something calm on TV, look at a book or lay across his bed. Even if he doesn’t fall asleep, he is still resting. Remember, rest and a proper diet will help your child better cope with additional excitement and stress.
6. Shop smart. Plan shopping trips when your child is rested, and watch for cues he is getting tired. To make the trip easier and more enjoyable, bring along a few kid-favorite items: a treasured toy, familiar foods and comfort items. If you need to shop all day, hire a sitter, swap off with another parent or shop online.
7. Give advance notice. If possible, brief your child on upcoming changes in his routine so he knows what to expect. If you are attending an event, arrive early so you have time to find your seats and visit the restroom before the crowd arrives.
8. Quell fears. For some children unfamiliar events, such as visiting Santa, are accompanied by fear and trepidation. If this is the case, do a dry run. Look at Santa from a distance and talk about what you see. Use “I wonder” statements: “I wonder if it’s kind of scary to sit on someone’s lap you don’t know? What do you think?” This validates your child’s feelings, encourages dialogue and may help him work through it.
9. Build in quality time. Perhaps the best way to help your child cope with holiday stress is to spend quality time together. Keep cuddle time routines, schedule visits to the park and make him an active participant in holiday chores — in the kitchen, while shopping and wrapping presents.
10. Watch your stress level. Children look to adults to model behaviors, so if parents are uptight kids are going to pick up on it. Take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, eat right and relax so you have the patience and energy to manage your child. Most important, prioritize what’s most important. Ask yourself what you want your child to take away from the holidays. Eliminate activities that are not priorities.
Denise Yearian is a former educator and editor of two parenting magazines, and the mother of three children and four grandchildren.