ENJOYING THE HOLIDAYS WITH YOUR CHILD WITHOUT STRESS
The holiday season is upon us and most of you dream of family gatherings filled with warmth and generosity. You want to make happy holiday memories with your child. However, many holiday traditions are stressful for children as your child’s routine becomes completely changed. School is often out and there is no predictable rhythm of the day. Meals, naps, and bedtimes are often disrupted as relatives travel and gather together. The overstimulation, the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells can lead to behavior problems, especially with children who are sensitive, reactive, or inflexible.
Here are a few tips about how to handle the holidays gracefully and gratefully:
1. Plan ahead. Since your child’s routine will be disrupted, figure out how to structure the days for the least negative impact on your family’s typical schedule. For instance, if your child goes to bed at 7:30pm, don’t do dinner at 8pm.
2. Be realistic. According to your child’s age, set developmentally appropriate expectations. How long do you think your child can actually sit nicely? If you want your child to have a conversation with an aunt he sees only twice a year, then practice with her that conversation in advance.
3. Talk to your child about the upcoming changes. Explain to your child what your plans are for the holidays. Give her details before you go to a gathering or you travel to another state or country.
4. Avoid overscheduling. As fun as it may seem, limit the holiday parties and activities, so that your child does not get overwhelmed. Too many obligations can lead to stress and anxiety.
5. Involve your child in the process. Invite your child to help you shop or cook. Give your child an activity that will boost her self-esteem and make her feel you are on the same team. Remember to praise her for being helpful and responsible.
6. Remind your child -and yourself – what the holidays are really about. It is this special time of the year that you take to appreciate your family and relatives. It is this special time of the year when you care deeply about and feel gratitude for your loved ones.
As the holidays unfold and you start to make plans, it helps to think about what your child will need in order to feel happy and grateful. Share with your child your expectations and listen to her feelings and concerns.
HOW TO SET HEALTHY BOUNDARIES WITH YOUR CHILD
Setting healthy boundaries with your child without being permissive or authoritarian can be a challenging task. On one hand, strict parenting undermines your child’s ability to self-discipline. She is more likely to have difficulty managing her anger and may become an adult more prone to depression. On the other hand, permissive parenting sabotages your child’s development as she will not be able to cultivate the ability to tolerate frustration or to manage herself. There is a middle ground that works. When necessary limits are set with empathy, your child will offer less resistance as she feels heard and understood emotionally.
What does setting limits with empathy mean?
1. Establish a strong and supportive connection with your child so that she knows you are on her side. When spending unstructured and uninterrupted time with your child each day, the emotional connection deepens over time.
2. While setting the limit, offer genuine empathy to your child so that she knows you see the limit from her perspective as well. For instance, your child may want your full attention while you are having a discussion with another adult. Let her know you understand her wish by teaching your child to simply place her hand on your wrist and wait. Then, place your hand on hers so that you acknowledge her. If your child is older, you may use a sign that you both chose previously.
3. Limit behavior and allow feelings. It is natural for a child to feel anger and disappointment when you set limits. Your job is to accept these feelings and love her through them. The more you practice this approach, the less her feelings will be overwhelming. If you cannot accept her feelings of anger or sadness, your child learns that they are unacceptable. Then, these feelings do not vanish, but instead go underground and magnify.
If you can provide an emotional “holding environment” while also reinforcing the limit, then your child has the freedom to express and experience her feelings. After crying and grieving about what she cannot have, she will be then ready to move on and let go of that path. She will find a more acceptable path. Over time, she learns she cannot always have her way, but she has someone who loves and accepts her fully the way she is.
This is the most beautiful gift you can make to your child: Your Unconditional Love.
As a parent and a therapist, I want to offer some tips on how to raise happy and healthy kids. Please feel free to comment on my posts.