Whether we’re ready or not–the holiday season has officially arrived. Aisles are decorated, treats are piled high, and parents are beginning to brace for an inevitable increase in stress, excitement, fatigue and anxiety (for themselves and their children) during the upcoming months.
Let’s face it, “difficult” if not downright “horrid” moments are going to arise. As we get ready for the festivities, we must remember it is unrealistic to expect our children to perform perfectly during the holiday season, when everyone, especially our kids, are more stressed than usual and their coping skills become maxxed out with the shopping, traveling and visiting associated with our traditions. What matters most is not that our children behave perfectly, but that we dedicate the time necessary to prepare (and practice) for the holidays, as well as, establish a plan for how we will respond when things don’t go as planned.
Here are 6 Sure Fired Tips to Navigate the Holiday Season with Grace:
1. Identify your Starting Point
If you are under the impression that your little munchkins will magically turn into darlings because you bring them out in public, do everyone a favor and evaluate your situation without the rose colored glasses. If you indulge your children at home by giving in to their demands, they will expect the same treatment when you travel with them—and more. If you control them by yelling and using threats, they are smart enough, even at three, to figure out that you can’t and you won’t control them using those same strategies while you are in public, so this is their chance to exact revenge on you.
2. Plan Ahead and Practice (Based on your starting point, plan accordingly)
Here is an example: If your kids have less than stellar dinner manners, (they leave the table multiple times, they play with their food, they complain about what is served, they yell at their siblings) start a new routine before you arrive at Aunt Gertrude’s for Thanksgiving Dinner. Have a conversation with the kids about what they think proper table manners are.
Choose one area to reform – “From now on, if you leave the table, it means that you are done eating and your plate will be removed. You will have another chance to eat at our next meal.” Follow through is crucial. Likewise, if children begin playing with food or yelling at their siblings, it indicates they are done nourishing their bodies and they may leave the table. Acknowledge the children when they begin incorporating these new skills into daily life – “I really look forward to dinner with you and catching up on your day.”
By working together now, creating new habits when the stress level is low and allowing the kids time to practice you increase the odds that your family will be working together all through the holiday season.
3. Model and Acknowledge
Model kindness and gratitude each day and show appreciation when your kids demonstrate kindness and gratitude. I call this “shining a spotlight” on the moments our children are revealing their best selves.
4. Keep Expectations Realistic
It’s likely your kids will misbehave at some point and it’s just as likely that you will handle it in a less than stellar way. It’s okay. This year, give yourself and your children the GIFT of being mere mortals, who from time to time act more like three-year-olds than their chronological age suggests. Trust me, a year from now it will either be a funny story or completely forgotten.
5. Take Cues from the Kids
Are they tired? Then leave the party early. Are they bored? Then find out how they would like to spend the hour layover in the airport. It is unrealistic to expect that kids can demonstrate self control and restraint for hours at a time, so be flexible, keep an open mind and support them by listening to them.
6. Identify Teachable Moments and Take the Time to Teach
When you find yourself in one of those “moments,” confronted with a child who is acting in a way other than you would like, try distraction. Do whatever it takes to move him away from the moment or the thing he is melting down about and worry about what caused it later. (The moment of chaos is not the time to teach your child.) This isn’t the same as giving in. This is about capturing the moment, recognizing that your child doesn’t have the skills or the maturity to deal with the situation calmly and understanding that when January arrives, you have a new area to work on with your child. After all, isn’t this what parenting is all about, anyway.
If you invite your children into the process and ask them to participate in identifying the expectations and offer them time to practice, you will find that those tough moments become fewer and farther between. And when you are in the moment, do your best to relax and do whatever it takes to move through that tough time with distraction and re-direction, so that you can enjoy yourself and leave the 2013 holiday season with good memories and good information.