Having happy holidays is a matter of planning, setting realistic expectations and being aware of what your children can handle.
The holidays are almost upon us and most parents are likely busy with running endless errands, shopping for gifts, baking, decorating and holiday entertaining. Young children generally prefer their daily lives to have organized and familiar routines. However, holidays may be times when these usual routines are easily broken.
Some children handle this well and adapt very easily to changes in meal times, bedtimes and extra people around the house. Many, however, don't, and then a happy holiday can quickly turn into a disaster as a child falls apart because he or she feels the normally predictable day has quickly spun out of their control.
To avoid an upset crying child at a holiday gathering, try to keep routines as consistent as possible. Make sure young children eat at their usual mealtimes, get adequate naps and go to bed as close to their normal bedtime as possible. If visitors will be arriving or your family will be visiting others, give a child lots of warning and discuss what all of this will involve. For example, "Grandma and Grandpa are coming tomorrow and they are going to be sleeping in the spare bedroom." In addition, prepare the visitors for your child's routine. "Jacob normally naps from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and that would be a great time for you to go shopping. Then when he wakes up from his nap, he will be ready to go with you to the playground."
Try to prepare for the holidays as well in advance as possible. This will help avoid last-minute scrambling to accomplish everything. Children generally don't handle an environment of hustle, bustle and confusion very well. If parents are tired and stressed, perceptive young children will pick up on this mood and sometimes display similar behavioral reactions.
If at all possible, avoid dragging young children to crowded stores. If it is necessary for them to accompany parents shopping, try to choose a time when they are fed, well-rested and the stores may not be as congested.
Simplify, simplify, simplify! Ask yourself if it is really more important to bake cookies for the holiday gathering you will be attending or to buy them from a bakery and spend that extra time snuggling and reading to your child. Be aware of
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your budget and make a list of possible gifts you want to buy in advance of going shopping. Wandering through stores without goals in mind tends to promote impulse buying and over-spending.
Remember that small children are easily amused by one or two gifts rather than mounds of expensive presents. In fact, many toddlers are much happier and more challenged playing with the box a gift came in rather than the gift itself. As the saying goes, they often "prefer the wrappings to the trappings."
If your children receives lots of gifts from family and friends, consider putting some away in a closet for a while and then bringing them out one at a time a few weeks or months later at a time when your child is bored.
Discuss holiday traditions from both sides of the family that are cherished by each parent and select the ones that are most important for to uphold and continue. As a child, did you enjoy baking and decorating cookies with your mother? Maybe that is something you might wish to try with your children. Remember that you can also create your own new holiday traditions when your children are young. That new tradition may become so dear to them that they will want to carry through that particular ritual or practice with their family many years in the future.
Keep the festivities on a kid-tolerated level. Expecting a young child to sit quietly and appropriately through a long family dinner is unrealistic. It might help to observe the "rule of two" with your family; that is to keep holiday obligations to no more than two per week.
Be aware of your child's own personality and how well they might handle certain situations. Forcing a terrified toddler to sit on Santa Claus' knee for the sake of a Christmas photo is cruel and perhaps even permanently traumatizing to the child. Maybe by next year, they will be excited about and more ready for that experience.
Try not to make your expectations for the perfect family holiday too high. Some events are beyond your control as a parent. If things do get overwhelming for you or your child (and they might), slow down and reconnect with one another. Do something that is stress-relieving as well as enjoyable for you both. Take a walk together, read a story, share a bubble bath, sing or listen to music. Remember that holidays should be about spending and enjoying time with those you care about the most. Keeping that principle in mind will ensure a happy holiday for all!
-- Aynsley Anderson is community education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.