The holidays can bring out the best and the worst in family dynamics. Here are some ideas about how to make your time with friends and family as enjoyable as possible, without sacrificing your own parenting style.
Make a list and check it twice
Think about your parenting approach and make a mental (or actual) list of the things that you want to uphold with your children, and what you can let go of a little. This is sort of like picking your battles, but when done consciously ahead of time, it can be empowering and purposeful. Think about your children and their strengths and needs. What do they need to function at their best? You may decide to stay firm on bedtimes for example, but be flexible around mealtimes.
Routines can be fun!
It can be tempting to let the idea of something fun override your children’s need for consistency. While it may seem like a great idea to be spontaneous and stay up late for a movie marathon as a family, the next day with your child might teach you otherwise. Plan fun days or activities in advance when possible.
Watch for your children’s cues
Kids are great at showing us when they're happy, but they also give us signs that they’ve reached their limits. Recognize your children’s cues and act on them. Family gatherings pose challenges in monitoring your child’s behaviour cues, but be on the lookout for things like yawning, pouting, and raised voices (the things that Santa is allegedly looking for, too!) and remove the problem. Sometimes kids just need a ten minute break, or a change in activity.
Manage what you can
You cannot predict or control everything, but you can manage certain aspects of your children’s day to avoid challenges. Remember the acronym “HALT” which stands for Hungry, Anxious, Lonely, Tired. Many potential meltdowns can be avoided if you are on the lookout for these four triggers. Ask yourself and your child if any of these are present and deal with them as best you can.
Give your children a road map for the week, as well as for each day. You can use a visual reminder like a calendar with different activities identified on each day. For those jam-packed days, use a system that works for your child’s age and stage. For younger children, this might include pictures, for older ones, you may be collaborating with them on planning the day’s events. Talk with them about where you think the challenging aspects might be and plan proactively together.
Above all, remember to give yourself a break, and take some time to reflect on the wonderful work you’re doing as a parent. After all, next to Santa Claus you’ve got the toughest job of all!
What are your strategies for coping with holiday parenting stress?