“Why does my child act up more around the holidays?” is a question I am asked often in my practice. Parents grow to expect more tantrums, crying, fighting, and/or withdrawal from the festivities around this time of year. While the holiday season often brings much joy and fun events for many, it can also bring increased stress, anxiety, and more difficult behavior to manage. Holidays tend to come with either higher or simply different expectations from both parent and child, and some children have difficulty adapting to the change. With more down time and a break from school, children may look to others for constant entertainment that may not be realistic. Festivities, more family around, music, crowds, colorful lights, presents, and louder voices can all add up to overstimulation in some children, oftentimes without even realizing it. Here are a few tips to help head off some of the issues that you may expect to arise.
- Maintain the basics:
- Sleep-later bedtimes and earlier rising can lead to increased irritability, short fuses, and difficulty problem solving when stressed; staying close to typical schedules will benefit everyone
- Sugar-allowing extra sweets may sound ok at first, but the aftereffects are usually undesirable; try to limit sweets and sugar, especially in the evening
- Exercise-being indoors and sedentary can have an impact on mental health and mood; try making time for some physical movement
- Set up rewards-if you want to see positive behavior, clearly explain what is desired and what he or she can expect to receive as a reward for it (maybe that’s where the sweets come in!)
- Establish expectations beforehand-explain the times you will be at an event or someone’s home, discuss how many sweets are allowed up front, explain what activities are ok or not, remind the child that proper manners are expected and give examples
- Prepare to be a conflict coach-talk when calm, identify each one’s part in the conflict, listen, empathize, and prompt each child to offer solutions (easier said than done, but it’s a start)
- Discuss coping skills in advance-identifying coping skills, such as deep breathing, counting, taking space, and others can help a child learn to deal with different emotions and triggers; practicing before they are needed improves results
The holidays can present both parents and children with challenges that may seem discouraging or frustrating. While not an easy task, there are ways to tackle them so the special times are more enjoyable and less stressful for everyone. Gain more insight and discover the possibilities ahead.
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