It’s December. It’s time for holidays. No matter how or if you worship, or what you believe, this month is supposed to be a time for celebration and fun for children. As adults, we see their schedules change as they have activities and events that are designed to help them celebrate the festive nature of the season. Allow me to be clear here: This is not a bad thing. However, it does bring about a different type of stress that needs to be acknowledged and supported.
We know that children thrive with structure and consistency. Boundaries and predictability allow children to relax into a framework for learning by allowing them to find a rhythm for their day. This time of year provides a new learning opportunity for our children. How do we cope when the rhythm changes? How do we follow the rules in new environments? How do we feel joy and excitement without becoming disruptive or out of control?
Here are some tips for supporting children during December so that they can relax and enjoy all of the fun activities made available to them whilst continuing to abide by the rules and expectations they need to follow every day.
Prepare Them for Changes
One of the mantras of every parent should be “Preparation over Intervention”. Speak to your child every morning about what their day might look like. They will already be a bit anxious due to the lack of structure in their day. Anxious feelings can easily turn into actual anxiety or excitement. Remind them that anxiety is just excitement without the breath. Take deep breaths together and help them look forward to their day.
Children may have: extra winter parties for their clubs, the end of term for a club before the school term is over, baby sitters coming over so you can attend events, extra visits from family etc. Do your best to keep children informed. Children may find it difficult to let you leave for a party when they only have 5 minutes notice. However, they will find it easier to let you leave if they can get excited about who will be caring for them that evening.
Be Ready and Check the HEAT
I was once told to always check the HEAT before speaking with anyone. This means, never try to engage in meaningful conversation with someone who is Hungry, Emotional, Angry or Tired. These are under resourced states. Have healthy snacks available to help fuel your child. This time of year is often filled with lots of sugar. Keeping it as healthy as possible at home will counter balance the negative effects. If they are angry or emotional, take time to turn towards them and coach them through coping with these emotions. Finally, the days will be long with little sunlight. Make sure they are getting enough sleep. Our bodies naturally want to get more sleep in the winter. Work with this and encourage down time and bed times. This will make sure they have enough charge to run through busy days.
Be Ready for Feelings
You know how children always have the ability to clearly define that they are tired and need a break? Neither do I. Most children will assume that they are feeling something other than tired. This time of year, kids are exhausted and feelings are raw. Allow them to identify what they believe is bothering them. This is a great time to learn emotional vocabulary. As an outside observer, you may know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all your child needs is a good night’s sleep. However, if they need you to understand that the green jumper is the real reason they are angry and that they are definitely not tired, it’s ok. You can always process the next day if you feel the need. Again, use the emotion coaching skills to get through this. Feelings are temporary as are December stresses.
Respect Your Child’s Boundaries
We know that our family love and cherish our children. Extended family that do not see them very often want to shower them with affection. This can be an amazing space for your child to start to learn about body boundaries. If a child does not like to be kissed or touched, respect this. My body, my rules is a value that cannot be learned soon enough. Give your child alternatives like high fives, fist bumps or side hugs. This way, they show affection without feeling like an adult has the right to make them feel uncomfortable in their body.
Many of our children sing or dance. It can be very tempting to turn them into our exhibition to prove our family has talent. Encourage them to share this talent. If they are merely being a little shy, offer to sing or dance with them. However, if you hear an adamant no about singing or dancing in front of others, respect this. The fear of being judged has made too many children quit before discovering talents. Alternatively, they can practice a piece before hand to perform for eager grandparents. Preparation makes them feel less on the spot and more willing to share.
Watch Your Special Needs Children
Children with special needs often struggle with emotional regulation around change at the best of times. This can be a very difficult time for them. At home, be prepared for meltdowns and remember that they are not tantrums. It may be tough and that’s ok. Just remember that it is never personal. Take a step back and do your best to anticipate the needs of your child. Do your best to make home as regular and consistent as possible to have a place to alleviate the stress of the changes. Also, try to limit disruptions as much as possible by grouping family visits. Too many new environments may make your child over stimulated. Always provide a de-stimming space after any event. This will help both of you shake off the day and come back to centre.
This time of year is to be enjoyed and shared. There are some times when it is stressful as a parent to help regulate your child’s emotions. However, with the right preparation and interventions, you will be able to maximise the fun and minimise the stress for the entire family.