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.
Originally published in 2008.
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