Holidays are a mixed blessing. On one hand, we have generosity, friendly faces, gifts, great food, community engagement and more family time. On the other hand, holiday times are packed full of distractions, stimulating music, money demands, sugary food, expectations to be cheerful and lots of social events.
Along with the excitement may come a spinning head, frustration and tiredness. This can be even more difficult with small children and sensitive kiddos. The extra hype needs some redirection, containment and plain ole’ patience. Below are some tips for how to prepare, deal in the moment of overwhelm and how to recover.
1. Anticipate it.
Listen, we would all love to get through the holidays without any extra drama. The holidays do offer a lot of special times -- and I don’t mean to detract from any of the warmth, love or generosity of the holiday season. However, sometimes an overly cheerful outlook makes the upsets feel that much more disappointing. Measure your experience against the imagined expectation can lead to making the upsets worse than they are.
If your child has a hard time with late nights, a loose schedule or meeting a lot of people, it can be helpful to acknowledge this prior to going to a party. It may be helpful to make a plan, but don’t expect the plan to work 100%. Speak to your child about the potential that they might get tired, overwhelmed, scared or frustrated and consider some ways to take a break before the melt down happens. Maybe you can have a tag-team agreement with other caregivers, and take turns in “reboot time” with your child. This holiday give your child/children and yourself some space for unexpected meltdowns by anticipating they will happen.
2. Wait. This too Shall Pass.
When your child starts throwing the sugar cookies on the floor, shrieking and pulling at your dress, you may be tempted to end that tantrum, then and there. The challenge is that when we try to get it under control, it often makes it worse. Perhaps take a deep breath and remind yourself this child is acting how most kids would in an overwhelming situation. Don’t add fuel to the fire by yelling back.
Take a deep breath and give some firm and supportive physical contact sending the message that you hear the tantrum loud and clear. Perhaps redirect the child into a different room after a minute has passed, and let the child know you are going to help them contain these feelings rather then try to force the feelings away.
3. Validate it.
Let your child know you feel their pain. Perhaps put yourself in their shoes and say something like, “I understand you are angry or sad.” It is helpful to remind your child that you are there to help. Maybe that means you hold your child, maybe that means you walk to a different area or simply redirect them to a toy or something funny.
4. Have a recovery method.
All kids need methods to soothe and recover from too much stimulation. These tools can be identified and utilized preventatively as well as once your child has become overwhelmed. Maybe you can set reminders on your phone to take your child into a quiet room for a break away from the crowd and noise. Perhaps your child will spend most of the time in a room alone and take breaks by meeting people and having snacks for a limited amount of time. Bring some soothing music, a book, stuffed animals, a beverage and any other calming tools. Often taking space away from the crowd, with a caregiver, can provide relief for a child that is easily overwhelmed by too much going on around them.
5. Parents set the rhythm.
Remember that as the parent, you know your child best. Be reasonable when making holiday plans. Assess what is best for you and your family and what you are willing to put up with.
There is a lot of pressure to be ONLY cheerful during the holiday season. It is possible that forcing too much cheerfulness may backfire. Allow yourself to turn down some of the holiday busy-ness if it doesn’t work for you. Listen for cues from your kids, but ultimately remember you are the one setting the pace and enforcing the break times and schedule. So allow for the holiday spirit to be alive -- full of love laughter and tears.
Find out more about Esther Krohner here.