The Holiday Season is a time of joy for most people - and surely people with children are most joyous of all, as children's excitement mounts and the countdown to the Great Day begins....
But the Holidays can also be incredibly stressful - and not just for adults. Children can get too out of themselves and deteriorate in terms of their behavior, something which, even if it is not obvious to adults, is very stressful for them. So is there a way to enjoy the excitement of the holidays without unduly increasing stress in both children and adults?
Here are a few ideas:
* Simplify, simplify, simplify! This should be the mantra of all parents, from pregnancy until their children leave home! And during celebration times, this becomes more important than ever. Don't schedule too many events - if your under age 10 child has a party with friends, make sure that is all you do on that day. Don't precede it with a quick shopping trip to the mall or follow it with a drive downtown to view the Christmas lights. One event per day. Events include: going to the airport to pick someone up; driving to Grandma's house for a visit; decorating the tree; going out for a meal; a shopping expedition; and so on.
* Keep your routines and rhythms as much as possible. When you get to Grandma's make sure that she understands that every day from 1 to 2pm the children (and you) have a rest. Make sure that meals are served at times which your children can cope with - ie not too late. Do everything you can to keep at least the main flow of your child's bedtime routine the same.
* Be prepared to spend a large part of the evening upstairs with your children and not part of the adult conversation downstairs. Few children adapt effortlessly to a new bed, new house, new people plus all the holiday hullabaloo without a lot of anxiety or overexcitement. And anxiety and over excitement spell children who cannot get to sleep or who wake frequently. This is one of those great moments of sacrifice as a mother. I certainly spent many an evening during the holidays at my mother-in-laws sitting in the hall outside the bedroom we shared with our sons, trying to hear the conversation downstairs, muttering and grumbling to myself....but knowing that actually, my sons (especially my youngest) needed me more than I needed to be with the adults, hard as that often was. And it does end - you won't have this problem when the children are older! Alongside "simplify, simplify, simplify" needs to be written, "this too shall pass!"
* Try to stagger things as much as possible if you have very young children - gift opening does not need to be done in one giant orgy all at once! A gift in the morning, another in the afternoon and then the main present opening can work very well. I always shudder when I see families where the children are allowed to just rip into their presents all at once. A wonderful tradition from my family (and one I insisted on when my husband and I had children) is that each family member gets his or her present, one at a time and that everyone else watches and savors while they open their gift. This helps enmromously to counter the "what have I got, me, me, me" attitude during the holidays as we all get as much if not more pleasure from seeing how our gifts are received by others. I was always the gift selector in the family - but would hand the gifts to our sons in turn to give to other family members when they were little. This helps keep small children busy and engaged - and again,. emphasises giving more than receiving. It also makes for a calm and peaceful time of togetherness.
* Some gifts need to be appreciated, the gift giver thanked - and then the present put away for a while. Or forever. Do not hesitate to do this. "Oh - my - here's a set of Bratz dolls and matching Hannah Montana strip tease clothes from Aunty Helen! My, my - let's write her name down on this list and we'll be sure to thank her. There's a very good place on my top shelf in my closet for them!" Sending relatives suitable catalogues or links to gifts you approve of does make life a bit simpler!
* Do make a habit of keeping track of who gave what to the children and then, some time later, sit down at the table with your children to make thank you cards. Again, this helps children learn to be thankful and to never simply "expect" to receive gifts from people.
* Keep an eye out for the plaintive cries of "I'm bored" while your child stands knee-deep in new toys and books. We must always listen into and behind what children say and not simply take their words at face value. Cries like this are not a simple expression of boredom - they are usually the cries of a stressed out child who is bewildered by too much stuff. Help your young child by organizing his gifts for him. Put some away. Stack the books in one place, maybe removing the precious ones to "look at later." Give him the toys he can play with by himself - put away the ones that need adult help. Some children get easily overwhelmed - but their responses do not necessarily look like an adult's way of expressing bewilderment. Aggression, whining, spinning out of control or withdrawal are all possible ways of expressing overwhelm. Crying "I'm bored" might be your child's only way of articulating this. So don't get annoyed!