The holidays are a very exciting time; but with traveling, large groups, changes in routine, and decreased structure, they can also be a stressful time. Below is a list of helpful suggestions to make the best of your holiday season.
Be Kind to Yourself; Be Kind to Others
It is so important to be gentle with yourself at this time of year. Often times we set high expectations for our kids, for ourselves, and for others. It is easy to be disappointed. Instead of beating yourself up, know that you are doing the best you can. Remind yourself that nobody has a perfect life, no matter how things look on the outside (or on Facebook!). You may even want to write this down on a note card or sticky-note – carry it with you or stick it somewhere you can see when you need reinforcement. Try and carve out time and activities that lift you up. This might include going to your place of worship, calling a friend when you’re having a moment, working out, or making a special dish from your childhood. Whatever it is, find something that makes you feel good.
It is also easy to blame a family member for a less-than-wonderful holiday experience. Remember, that person may be doing the best they can too. Think about setting reasonable expectations for others. If your in-laws are routinely late, don’t necessarily expect them to be on time and plan accordingly. When it comes to kids, think about what you can reasonably expect from them, including their behavior. If they’ve been up since the crack of dawn, it may not be reasonable to expect them to be at their best behavior. Know what to expect from yourself and from others, and then create a plan that works for you and your family. For example, if you are invited to a family dinner that will begin at a time when your kids are used to winding down for the night, allow your kids a chance to rest before the dinner, give them a hearty snack before you go, and make it clear to your family that you may have to leave early depending on how everyone is holding up. Orienting yourself to that plan and giving others a heads up can also take some of the embarrassment and guilt out of having to leave early while giving your kids a rest and something to eat before you go maximizes the chances that you’ll get their best behavior from them.
Set the Stage.
You are a role model and your behavior is what your children will model, so lead by example. If they see you stressed out, they will feed on that and the tension in your home will build. If your kids see that you are calm, cool, controlled, and reasonably stress-free, their attitudes and actions will follow. In most things, kids take their cues from us. Show them that you’ve got everything under control and they will follow suit. Or, better yet, model for them when you are calming yourself down – take a deep breath and say out loud, “OK, so I burnt the cookies – it’s not that big of a deal. I’ve got more dough for another batch and it was fun making them with you guys, anyway!”
Create a Plan of Action for Family Gatherings.
When you are making a plan, consider what you can control. Parents cannot predict every detail of every day – we are only human. Do your best to help the family understand how the day will flow. On busy days or days that are out of the ordinary, explain the expectations of the day and be firm. You can build in consequences for meeting the expectations. For example, explain ahead of time, “we’re going out to do a little shopping. You have to stay very close to me in the stores and do your best to be patient while I’m picking things out. If you do that, we’ll stop for a treat before we go home.”
For kids who get a little overwhelmed or stressed in crowded places or during busy parties, role-play ways to “ask for a break” if needed (coming up with a code-word can be very helpful). You may even come up with a distinct location of a safe place where the break can take place. Again, be firm and realistic on when to ask for a break, how long it will last, and what follows the break.
Get Creative and Ask for Help.
Cooking, cleaning, and shopping on top of regular parenting and household duties is a lot for anyone to bear. You are only one person and can only do so much, so be realistic and give yourself a break. Have activities for your kids planned in advance in order to keep them busy. These can include play dates with other kids, movie and game nights with the family, and day trips within your town. Also, ask for help whenever possible. Take advantage of relatives visiting that have been eagerly waiting to spend time with the kids. Take them up on their offer, guilt-free, and use the time to catch up on your to-do list. Now is the time to take up friends and family on their offers of support.