The Holidays are a time of year we all look forward to for so many different reasons! There is Hanukkah (December 18-26), Las Posadas (December 16-24), Winter Solstice (December 21), Christmas (December 25), Kwanzaa (December 26-January 1), and New Year’s Day (January 1). Whether you are celebrating a specific holiday or just the arrival of the winter season, this is a time of family gatherings and a break from the typical schedules and routine. It is easy to get carried away with the expectations you have for yourself and your toddler or new baby during this time of year. These expectations can be an easy way to increase stress and with this change, you may see behaviors that are not typical in your child- which lead to more stress. Here are a few things to keep in mind as we enter this time for family, friends, and togetherness so you and your child can enjoy your holidays.
Young children usually need consistent routines and often the holidays bring anything but that! Think about your current routines. How do they change during the holidays? As much as possible, maintain your regular, daily routines like bedtime, playtime, and mealtime, so your child has some consistency, even when traveling. If routines will be disrupted, identify those changes early. Consider practicing flexibility at home before the changes occur. You can do that by making small changes in your current routine to see how your child responds. If it’s difficult, do it more often in very small steps.
A sensory input is something that impacts our senses, like lights, movement, or noises. One input on its own may not be too much, but as we spend more time around sounds, lights, or hubbub, they can build up and become overwhelming. This is sensory overload.
Get to know your child’s sensory responses. Tune in to how your child responds to sensory inputs throughout their day. Then practice sensory calming activities before you go on outings. Bring along tools for helping your child meet their sensory needs like headphones, blankets, chewies, favorite toys, or bubbles.
Share your needs with family and friends who are visiting. Before a visit, let guests know when they can arrive and when you need them to leave. Share your child’s sensory needs, and let people know if/when they need to keep the noise level down.
Ask for help with cooking or have a potluck instead of making everything yourself. Reduce mealtime stress and clean-up by serving food in ready-to-store containers or using disposable plates and silverware. If you like setting a fancy table, ask your guests for help cleaning up and washing dishes.
Expectations for yourself
Remember that your child is likely to pick up on your mood. If you are stressed because company’s coming or you haven’t finished shopping, your child may react strongly, which only adds to your stress. It’s possible that if you don’t enjoy your holidays, your child won’t either.
If money or gift giving expectations cause stress, think about other ways to celebrate by creating new family traditions, such as:
- Baking holiday cookies together. Let your child do the mixing or pour on the sprinkles.
- Taking winter walks, a holiday bus tour or a drive to look at the lights and decorations.
- Having special toys, music, and books that you bring out just during the holidays.
- Sharing stories and photos of favorite holidays from past years.
Travel and staying over
If possible, spread out holiday visits instead of having one giant get-together. Talk with friends and family ahead of time to let them know what your child needs to have a good visit and enjoy their holidays. Ask the host family to have a room or space for your child to take a break, if they need one. When you arrive, visit that space first and help your child get settled. Let your family know this important first step will help you make the most of your visit. Taking frequent outdoor breaks can also help if weather allows.
Your Home and Decorations
From adding decorations to moving furniture to make room for guests, these changes can also cause stress for children. Think about what’s really important for you, and what you can let go.
If decorations are important to you but cause stress:
- Decorate with child-friendly items like soft toys and pillows.
- Use pipe cleaners to hang ornaments on trees.
- Let your child remove child-friendly decorations from the tree (or other display) whenever they want. Keep a container nearby to put them in.
- Keep fancier decorations high up and out of reach, or don’t use them (for now) to eliminate any temptation to climb.
- Give your child their own decorations that they can play with.
- Don’t make any changes at all! If having to put up/take down/deal with decorations causes too much stress, it’s ok to skip it this year.
It’s OK if things don’t go as planned.
Take a break/nap with your child if you need one.
Don’t try to keep up with friends or family that make all their gifts from scratch and seem to do everything perfectly. Your life is not theirs.
Celebrate what you can do.
Make arrangements to have a break from parenting and practice self-care, at the holidays and year-round!
Don’t overload yourself with your own expectations and commitments. Find time to enjoy your holidays with your family – no matter what happens.
Happy Holidays from our Brighton Family to yours!
Early Childhood CARES – https://earlychildhoodcares.uoregon.edu/