Winter Holiday Survival Guide
Disrupted schedules, traveling with little ones, the crash and burn from all the excitement -- Holidays can easily be a recipe for tears and tantrums. How can parents manage life during the holidays to maximize the joy and minimize the tears?
1. Give kids the traditions they love, which offer an experience of security and wonder.
Shift the focus from consumption to meaning with traditions that
connect your family, such as telling your holiday story around the fire
(or a table-full of candles), stringing popcorn for your tree, or
singing holiday songs together. Be sure to include a tradition that
gives your child the opportunity to feel good as a giver, such as buying
and wrapping a book to donate, or making a present for Grandma.
2. Don’t torture yourself and your kids by dragging them with you when you go shopping. You might be able to create a positive experience for yourself without the kids, but that’s almost impossible to do with them in tow. Trade off with a friend to watch all the kids while the other shops. (Too stressful to have all those kids underfoot? This is a great opportunity to launch a holiday tradition by watching Miracle on 34th Street!) Or limit yourself to buying online. Better yet, forgo most presents and instead make cookies or ornaments with your kids for anyone you want to gift.
3. Give kids plenty of warning about travel and upcoming events. At the beginning of the holidays, you might use a calendar to show them what will happen each day. (“Then the day before Christmas we leave for Grandma’s, where you’ll get to play with all the cousins.”) Many kids love to make a little book in advance, where each page represents a new day and they draw a picture of what will be happening. Sit down for a snuggle every morning and describe the day ahead.
4. Plan no more than one event per day. If you’re taking the kids to the Christmas pageant in the afternoon, don’t expect them to sit still for dinner at Grandma’s that night. They'll be overstimulated and ready to crash and burn. If you’re visiting your inlaws, don’t plan the morning with the cousins and the afternoon at Aunt Betty’s. Kids need downtime, just to chill out, snuggle, and do whatever relaxes them. If they don’t get it, they can’t really be blamed for melting down when the over-stimulation gets to them.
5. Keep to your usual schedule as much as possible. Kids need the security of familiar routines. They’re stressed by unfamiliar events and what feels to them like chaotic unpredictability. Do what you can to keep them on schedule and be patient when they get hyped-up or irritable.
6. Have age-appropriate expectations and plan accordingly. A four year old can’t be expected to sit quietly while you enjoy dinner at the home of your best friend from high school, for instance. If you’re doing a lot of visiting with adults, be sure the kids have something to occupy them. If they can read, buy them a new book for the occasion, one they can’t wait to get into. If they’re too young to stay absorbed in a book, bring a favorite DVD. Be sure your schedule includes visits to the playground or other opportunities for the kids to get some fresh air and physical activity.
7. Coach your kids about the social behavior you expect. Role play with them in the car before you arrive, or make a game of it before you go. “What do you say when Aunt Susie gives you a present?” “What if you don’t like the present?” “What do you when Uncle Norman wants to hug you hello?” “What if you don’t like the dinner that’s served?” “When you want to leave the table, how do you ask?” “What will you do if the cousins start arguing?”
8. Watch your kids’ food intake in the midst of too many treats and hyped-up schedules. Many tantrums originate from hunger. And all parents recognize the sugar high that sends kids bouncing off walls and then crashing into tears. If necessary, speak with your parents in advance about limiting treats. And carry small protein-rich snacks with you so your child doesn’t have a melt-down while the adults are negotiating where to go to dinner.
9. If you go on vacation, be sure it recharges and reconnects your family. Some of us look forward to the kids’ school vacations as a chance to leave town in search of warm weather or winter sports. That can give you plenty of chances for family connection, especially if you forgo organized evenings in favor of family board games. What you want to avoid, of course, is racing around before you leave, getting stressed out by a busy trip, and returning home in need of a vacation. Kids tend to get cranky and stressed with travel and schedule changes, so plan accordingly.
10. If you’re flying with kids, be sure to arrive early enough that they get to “run” a bit in the airport hallway after sitting still in the car and before sitting still on the plane. DON'T pre- board -- your child will just have to sit longer in his seat. Make sure to change diapers and use the bathroom just before boarding. If you use overnight diapers (more absorbent), you might get lucky and avoid diaper changes on the flight. Special secret for painless flights: Bring small wrapped “presents” – books, treats, chapstick, puzzles, simple crafts – for each child. Kids can look forward to getting one as soon as they’ve buckled their seat belts, and several more whenever you need a distraction mid-flight. Blue painter's tape always comes in handy, too
-- you can make a tic-tac-toe board on the tray table, use it for
crafts, tape up blankets to make a cozy fort, and even make a hopscotch board in the airport while you're
waiting. Be sure to bring bottles, sugar-free lollipops or something
else to suck on during take-off and landing if your little one is not nursing.
11. The most important tip, as always in parenting, is to manage yourself so you can stay calm. Remember that the holidays are stressful for kids, and your kids depend on you not only to regulate their environment, but also to help them regulate their moods. If you’re anxious about everything you have to get done, your children will almost certainly begin to act out. Every day, find ways to keep your own cup full. If you’re out of balance, you won’t be able to help your kids stay on an even keel. In fact, if you’re anxious about everything you have to get done, your children will almost certainly begin to act out.
Your kids don’t need a magazine-spread holiday. They need you, in a good mood, living the spirit of the season and spreading love and good cheer. Pare back your schedule to do only the essentials. Make sure you nurture yourself and stay in balance. The minute your mood veers from loving to frenzied, STOP. Hug your children and regroup. And at New Years, pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well done, not just in December, but all year long.