Get decorations from attic. Check.
Put ornaments on tree. Check.
Bake cookies for neighbors. Check.
Find perfect gift for best friend. Check.
Clean house from top to bottom. (Still working on that one.)
If you’re like most of us, the holiday season often presents an usually long list of “things to do.” Some of those extra chores can be fun, but there are times when “enjoying” the season just simply gets the best of us.
For families with children, this can be particularly trying as the “magic” of the season gets lost somewhere between finding that popular toy and trying to stay true to holiday traditions. Parents, however, are not the only ones to feel overwhelmed this time of year.
“Children have a tendency to become more sensitive this time of the year, just like adults,” says Dayle Malen, a licensed clinical social worker.“Children are off their routines, and they may have difficulty with bedtime.”
Getting to sleep may not be the only issue.
Malen says parents may see other regressive behaviors. For example, some children, even those fully potty-trained, may begin bed wetting, and others may show their emotions either by being especially clingy and asking lots of questions or being withdrawn and “a little less warm and fuzzy,” adds Malen.
Some parents are sure to witness crying and possibly a full-blown tantrum.
Responding to these behaviors can be as simple as understanding where they begin.
Malen emphasizes that some children, just like some adults, have an idea in their minds about how they want to celebrate the holidays.
“They can imagine how each day of the vacation should go, what each person should do and what they want to happen,” says Malen, who adds that the difficult part is when that plan changes.
“When others or the ‘universe’ don’t cooperate, they get angry, upset or nervous,” she says. “They feel lost, defeated, disappointed or even that a catastrophe has happened.”
Malen says what looks like “spoiled” behavior is just that these children, and even adults, are upset because they don’t know how to respond to anything other than their perfect plan.
“They aren’t usually able to think of a ‘Plan B’ quickly and on the spot,” Malen says.
To help children sort through these emotions and possibly assist them in developing another plan, Malen recommends sharing the family’s activities for each day and letting everyone know as soon as possible if those plans change.
“We have to remember that children of all ages have plans for their life, just like we do. They may have already decided that after lunch they are going to call a friend or play a game,” Malen explains.
One way parents can help their children enjoy the holiday season is to write down the type of behavior — what Malen calls a job description — they want to see from each child.
“If there is no specific discipline plan in place already, then this is the time of year that ‘hit and miss’ strategies can go wrong,” Malen warns.
Parents, she says, are under a lot of pressure, too, and without a discipline plan, everyone’s temper can get out of hand.
Malen recommends that when assigning chores, parents include a time frame, such as pick up your clothes before lunch or take out the trash after dinner. In addition, she suggests parents explain consequences and, in particular, be consistent that play time comes only after chores are done. Ultimately, she notes, if privileges are lost, it is the child’s responsibility, not the parents’.
Back to school
Carol Harlow, a school counselor at St. Thomas More Catholic School, says some students have a difficult time returning to school after an extended holiday break. She says the first days can be tough for these children, especially those that miss spending the extra time with their parents or have trouble simply staying awake during class.
“Some of the kids get used to sleeping late and doing what they want to do,” says Harlow, adding most children react well in a school’s structured environment and may actually look forward to the routine and seeing their friends again.
Harlow recommends that parents try to keep the same schedule as much as possible during the school break.
“If you want to blow the schedule for one week, do that, but use the second week to get back on track,” says Harlow, who also suggests that parents “do a little school stuff” during the break.
Harlow notes that reading to or listening to your child read aloud is a simple way to keep children school ready, and it has the added bonus of encouraging parent/child bonding.
“Of course, have fun and enjoy your family, too,” says Harlow. “But do spend some time doing school-related activities.”