I so enjoy this time of year; however, I also recognize that the holidays can be challenging for young children due to the heightened expectations that adults often “feed” without realizing the consequences. Kids can become frenzied and feel exhausted when taken to too many evening activities, family gatherings, holiday parties and special events. Even worse, families often relax structure this time of year when children most need structure and routine to feel safe and secure amidst all the “hype.” Children like and need to know what to expect, and too many surprises, even good ones, can produce excessive stress or anxiety that often presents as challenging behavior or simple grumpiness.
With about two weeks until our holiday break, I would like to offer some suggestions about how to support children during this busy time of year by keeping life as simple, familiar and routine as possible to support a child’s sense of safety and predictability.
So here are a few gentle reminders to help children (and their parents) sustain their holiday spirit:
- Maintain bedtimes, except in very rare occasions. Children need their sleep. Disruption of sleep routines that get kids get “off schedule” will inevitably result in problems at home and school. Tired children are more susceptible to illness and tend to “melt down” with little or no provocation, even when things are going well.
- Play outdoors and exercise as often as possible. This is one of the best ways to manage stress for both adults and children, and research has proven that there is a direct link between physical activity during the day and how well children and adults sleep at night (a major rationale for two 30-minute recesses a day.) And remember that there is no such thing as inappropriate weather, there is only inappropriate dress, so don’t let the rain be the excuse for hibernating indoors.
- Maintain healthy eating habits, and keep rich holiday treats to a reasonable level; healthy eating supports resistance to illness and readiness to learn.
- Limit the number of special activities, so that children can resume a normal, familiar routine as quickly as possible. Give children a brief heads up about what to expect, but not so far in advance that it significantly increases anxiety and heightens expectation.
- Let children experience some of the season on their own terms. If baking cookies is not their thing but it IS yours, then bake cookies without them and enjoy watching the kids consume them. Indulging in a treasured tradition on your own can sometimes be one of the most satisfying and enjoyable gifts you give yourself.
- Hire a sitter and spend an evening alone with your spouse, partner or good friend. Give yourself the gift of some time to reconnect with other adults. Children need to learn that the adults are just as important as the children in any family, especially at this time of year when too much focus on children can encourage a sense of entitlement, rather than of generosity and gratitude.
- Create quiet times to stop and be together as a family and, in particular, to simply enjoy each other. Reading wonderful stories aloud as a family, even in households with teenagers, is a lovely, shared activity that everyone can enjoy and that costs nothing. Research supports that what children want most from parents is their undivided attention for periods of time (certainly not all the time). So enjoy your children and play with them.
None of these ideas are new or profound, but they are easily forgotten in the rush of holiday celebrations and activities. It is my fondest hope for each of our families that you may find your own way of moving gracefully through this season, spending time together and showing kindness and compassion to yourselves, as well as to others!
Head of School