Keeping the Fa La La in the Holidays with Your Children

Betsy Brown Braun
December 8, 2010

There is such a build up to the holidays.  As December approaches, we imagine how much fun the season will be ...sugar plum fairies and all.  Our heads are flooded with warm memories of the winter holidays from our own childhoods.  Then, the day after Halloween it hits:  gifts, picture cards, house decorations, holiday open houses, and dress up clothes that fit for everyone ... the works!  Hello stress, goodbye by Fa La La.
The funny thing is, it's not only us parents who feel holiday stress. Your kids feel it too.   While children's holiday memories are fueled by the gifts that come at the end, the time leading up to that end can be filled with child size stress.
Children pick up on and absorb their parents' holiday stress. We snap at them more, we hurry them more, and we spend much less time with them (shopping and parties and the works)...even though it's the family season.  When our fuses are so much shorter, it's the children who get burned.
And children have their own stress, too. One of the most powerful sources of stress in young children is change. The holiday season is ripe with changes of all kinds, change in bedtimes, change in meals, change in household inhabitants, to name just a few.  So it shouldn't surprise you that one of the best tips for keeping the Fa La La in your holidays is to stick to your regular daily routines.
Routines make the young child's everyday pathway smooth. Children thrive on routines, as they add predictability to their lives.  Knowing what is going to happen next, what is always expected of him, allows the child to relax. No surprises in store. No defenses necessary. Routines are the safe harbor wherein the child can let go. He knows there is no contest, no need for a fight because the routine is the way it is supposed to be.
Young children are working hard to make sense of the world and of their lives. It is the routines that give their lives shape and definition.  Routines are the guideposts of daily life. "This is what we always do." In turn, being in the know gives the child a sense of power. (And don't they just love power and control!)
Have you ever watched a two year old play "Ring Around the Rosey" Several beats before they get to "We all fall down..," that funny little guy plops to the ground. He knew what was coming; he knew the routine; he gets it! And he is so happy and proud of himself.
Routines often get thrown by the wayside during the holidays. While we think we are doing something special for our child in breaking from routine, in so doing we actually undermine his ability to be his best self. Such change eats away at the child's security and sense of predictability. Staying up later than bedtime might seem like a special treat, but, oh, the havoc it wreaks the next day.  The same holds true with special treats (just this one time), not taking his bath (it's too late), watching endless holiday TV programs (he never watches cartoons) and on and on.
Children thrive on doing things the way they are supposed to be done, and that means routines. And remember, one yes sustains the child through a thousand no's!  Getting back on track is not as easy as you may think.
As those halls are being decked and the Chanukah menorah is being polished, stick to your child's routines.  "Yes, I know you want to stay up late, but it is your bedtime, and that is that" will go a long way in immunizing your child against holiday stress.  Life is still the same, even though the holidays are here. Fa La La La La.

From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    Somehow I lost my last comment, and so I'm just going to recap. I've found that the bedtime routine is much more important than the rountine bedtime. It doesn't matter 7:30pm or 9pm, if I've stuck to the little bedtime routine, my daughter can usually adapt to the changes. So I'd say to go ahead and plan fun and new exciting things that may change some things up, but do keep the familiarity of the routines to help cue the child as to how they are to behave. A late night can mean that a nap the next day, which may throw off the afternoon plans. Children can be overscheduled- we do have to be sensitive to that. (We often overschedule ourselves as well!) As for the increased sweets and extra TV time, I think that's another battle altogether. This year, I have made her sweets as part of a tradition though. Like an advent calendar, she opens a box a day that has one piece of candy in it. She knows that that's her sweet for the day. Some days she may have other treats, but she doesn't expect it (and I usually try not to give her much more at all). She gets her "countdown" treat and she's pretty much okay with everything else.

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 2

    I agree moderation and routine are the key to keeping life sane through the holidays! Oh and some American Girl!

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 3

    I agree with the importance of routine-- its the only thing that saves our sanity with our 16 month old. But I think that as toddlers graduate to preschoolers (when does that happen, anyway?) a little bit of breaking with routine here and there is what adds excitement to the holiday season. Toddlers are too young to understand that the holidays are different than the rest of the year. But young children love the anticipation of new and exciting things, and getting to try new things-- in fact, those are my best childhood memories. r_avance at yahoo dot com

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 4

    I think it's good to have everything in moderation. The holidays are a time when we are often traveling and regular meals/bedtimes/routines can be hard to stick too. I tend to let my daughter indulge in more sweets/staying up late with the understanding that this is a rare occasion and that we will return to our normal traditions at home.

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 5

    The bedtime is key. No matter the season or event, we try to stick to bedtime. A good night's rest can go along way to keeping everyone happy and on track. :)

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 6

    This is great & oh, so true. I think just admitting there is stress in this season of celebration is a good place to begin. Then on to planning ahead to prevent & accommodate as much as possible is helpful. Thanks for sharing. I see Betsy's a Pacific Oaks alum - I'm from the same line of thinking as an Erikson grad. Child Development Specialists ROCK!

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 7

    Amen to this, I have found that if I just keep their regular meals, with regular ingredients and regular times, turning, then they can cope with the heady excitement of "out of sinkness" of the season.

    over a year ago


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