The holiday season can be a big trap for stress and parenting self-sabotage.
For the next several weeks, you may have high expectations for good, cooperative behavior. You may get tired of fielding requests for big, expensive or so very many gifts. Comments from relatives at family gatherings may trigger self-doubt. Little elves on shelves eagerly waiting to report on good or bad behavior may be putting kids a bit on edge.
Susan Newman, social psychologist and author shares:
We are supposed to be happy and joyous, but the demands of the holidays can quickly sap energy and enthusiasm. Racing around with tired, cranky children, and attempting to please too many people in our lives within the same compressed period can be nothing short of overwhelming
If you are looking for some ways to reduce stress and parenting struggles during the holiday season, here are seven positive parenting strategies for you:
1. Focus on unconditional love and connection
It may be tempting to use gifts as a means to motivate children to comply with requests, during the holiday season. The problem is that this kind of approach doesn’t create lasting motivation or self-discipline and can actually increase power struggles. Relying on external motivators like elves, gifts and bribes also means children will learn to focus on what they can “get” instead of learning the value of respect and following your guidance.
Strive to focus on your relationship, spend special time together daily. Make a gift wish list together and surprise your little one with gifts this holiday season, for the sake of being generous and promoting fun family time – not in exchange for specific behaviors.
2. Respect your child’s personal boundaries (No forced hugs and kisses)
Holiday gatherings may call for lots of greetings of relatives. Forcing children to kiss others when they feel uncomfortable violates the child’s personal space and their sense of personal boundaries and safety. Insisting on those kisses and hugs can lead to tantrums, clingy behaviors and a difficult start to a family event.
Worried that relatives will be expecting a warm greeting? Use play with your child to practice polite greetings like a wave and a hello. Talk ahead of time about which relatives they will be meeting and who they are. When arriving to an event, remember some children take a while to warm up to new people so try to respect your child’s pace and allow them to greet relatives how and when they feel comfortable.
3. Encourage more, evaluate less
“Stop that or Santa’s going to know how bad you are!”
“Santa’s not coming if you keep being so naughty and touching everything in store!”
Tempting? Yes, absolutely, because getting kids to listen and be cooperative when out and about can be tough. The constant evaluation of “good boy” and “bad girl” and naughty and nice is also really stressful to a child. That kind of information also doesn’t tell the child what it is that they CAN do.
Look for specific situations when you can use encouraging words instead of evaluating. This practice is great because it works everyday, and not just in the holiday season. Encouraging words also work to invite cooperation, validate and set limits:
“Thank you for helping me fold the dish towels, I appreciate it when you pitch in with family chores”
“It must have been tough to walk by so many toys and not even stop to look at them! We were in a hurry and I appreciate your cooperation getting in and out of the store so fast!”
” I see you really like this toy, please put it back on the shelf. Today I am not buying anything, AND I will add it to your holiday wish list!”
4. Dress up for play and comfort
Sensory experiences like itchy tags, and tight shoes can make small children cranky really fast. Last year at a Christmas party, a toddler was running around desperately trying to undress herself. I confess it would have been really funny if it was just a toddler thing and not for the fact that she was so very miserable because her tights were itchy. Eventually, she melted into a huge tantrum, it’s really wasn’t a very happy moment.
Older children tend to resist being told what to wear and prefer to choose their own outfits as well. If it’s hard to give up control of the outfits or you have your heart set on a beautiful but not so practical outfit, consider bringing a different outfit along for your child, just in case. Switching outfits after getting nice pictures taken may work as a good compromise.
5. Kid proof the decked out decor!
Beautiful…breakable…expensive ornaments and young children just don’t mix so well. Save the stress and hassle of begging, pleading, asking and well yelling…”Stop touching” by keeping your holiday decoration child friendly.
Use non breakable ornaments or decorations – that takes a lot of the stress away while the children in the house are still very curious and active toddlers/preschoolers.
Another idea is to have a small basket of ornaments that are child friendly and specifically intended for redirecting little ones to play with.
6. Healthy, Happy Eating (Avoid Food Power Struggles)
Food is a huge part of holiday festivities, from cookies to pies to big celebration meals. There may also be loads of new foods and smells that are of no interest to your young child. Young children naturally resist eating unknown foods (this is a protective behavior based on instinct not defiance) try not to insist. Instead to have familiar foods near the new ones and let your little one decide what they are happy to try.
Getting asked all the time for too many sweets? Before it pushes your buttons, try to be pro-active and set a limit on how many sweets are alright based on your family values and then stick to it.
Worried about table manners? Practice at home in a playful way, but don’t expect an overnight change. Especially toddlers like to touch and smash food before eating it. Preschoolers and older children are more likely to do well if they have something to do so bring coloring books and small toys along.
Don’t worry about keeping up with the latest trends or run yourself down doing more than you can realistically handle. The Holidays can be a a wonderful time to build memories, being deliberate in how you connect with your children can make it a truly magical time. Your shared time together is what will matter in the long run.
Peace & Be well,
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