Kid Stuff

A child psychologist discusses current topics related to children and adolescents.

Happy Holidays How-To!

Does holiday time = stress for you and your family?

Does holiday time = stress for you and your family? Read on for a few simple tips to help your holiday activities go off without a hitch!

This time of the year is filled with festive activities like shopping, getting together with friends, and spending time with family. Often the changes in our daily routine that come along with the holidays can be challenging for us as parents (and just as people too!). A few simple tips will help ensure this year's holiday activities are fun-filled rather than stress-inducing!


• Plan Ahead: Too often we find ourselves in the midst of a tricky parenting situation feeling frustrated and caught off guard. The best way to handle this is to (1) try to anticipate which situations will be most challenging, (2) devise a plan ahead of time about how we will react, and (3) implement our plan. For example, let's say that you attend a Holiday Work Party every year and every year the kids end up running around your co-worker's house, leaving you feeling embarrassed and annoyed while your spouse enjoys a drink, seemingly unaware of the situation. You might try talking with your spouse in advance of the party, "I know we have the party at XXXX's house coming up and every year it seems the kids get out of control. I was hoping we could work together to come up with a plan to try to make this year go a bit smoother." There are many options for dealing with this particular problem (as is true for most issues) so bounce around a few ideas and go with what works for you. Maybe you will decide to get a babysitter for the kids this year or maybe your spouse will stay home with them. Alternatively, you could use a simple behavioral system to keep the kids on track with their behavior (see below for an example). The most important thing is to work on a plan before you find yourself in the midst of chaos!


• Be Clear about Expectations: As parents, we often assume that our children know how they should behave and what we expect of them. How often have you found yourself saying, "You should know better than that!" Unfortunately, this just isn't true. Most kids don't "just know" how they should behave or what they should or should not do in certain situations. We can address this by deciding what our expectations are ahead of time, telling our children, and checking to make sure they understand. Let's take our example from above and say that you decide to bring the kids with you to the Party. After talking it over with your spouse you decide the most important expectations for the kids in this situation are to (a) follow your directions the 1st time and (b) use an inside voice. Together you talk with the kids about the Party, "Kids we will be going to the Party at XXXX's house again this year. I know you really enjoy going and we like having you there with us. This year to try to help us all have a good time we would like to talk to you about the rules for the Party (explain the expectations you came up with in language the kids can understand)." Now check for understanding, "Do you understand? Repeat those rules back to me." To make this system even more powerful you might try linking up the expectations with consequences. For example, "Each time you break one of the rules, we will give you a reminder. If you have 3 or fewer reminders at the end of the Party, you can have a special dessert for the ride home. However, if we have to remind you more than 3 times you won't have any dessert."


• Remember your Self-Care: During the holiday season (and throughout the year!) many of us do not take time to take care of ourselves. We devote hours to taking care of others, completing our work, errands, housework, etc, but don't put in any time for ourselves. Of course, this can leave us feeling stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. It's important to remember that taking time for ourselves makes us better parents. So be sure to plan some positive time for yourself this holiday season - maybe going to the gym, having a cup of tea with friends, taking a yoga class, reading - whatever relaxes you! I promise you will get many returns on any investment you make in taking care of yourself!


• Don't be Afraid to Set Boundaries: Holiday stress can come from many places, not the least of which is overbooking yourself and your family. Many of us feel like we cannot say no; that it is not polite or nice. This is not true! You have a right to set healthy boundaries for yourself and your family. This year you might try looking over the calendar and noticing your reaction to the many planned events this month. If seeing Aunt Jane's house penciled in on 12/23 at 5pm makes your stomach turn, take a moment to examine your reaction and try to figure out what it is about. Is it that you feel obligated to stay for hours on end? Or that you have to bring appetizers for 25 people? Once you identify what's making you uneasy, come up with a solution, a boundary related to the event. For example, I will not stay past 8pm or I will ask for help with the appetizers this year. Make sure you follow through and do not feel guilty about it - you are taking care of yourself!


• Watch What you Say to Yourself: Our thoughts have a huge impact on us. Many times these thoughts happen so automatically we don't even realize what we are saying to ourselves. Using our example of Aunt Jane's house above, when 8pm rolls around we might find ourselves thinking, "Everyone is going to be angry at me if I leave now. The holidays will be ruined. It's not worth it. I should just stay and grin and bear it. I can live without the sleep. It only comes once a year." Sound familiar? Well the good news is we are in control of our thoughts and we can actively change them, effectively changing how we experience our lives. For example, this year instead you might say to yourself, "It's okay for me to leave now. I've had a nice time visiting with everyone and they will understand that I need to get home and get some sleep. I decided ahead of time that this is important to me and I owe it to myself to follow through on my decision and to feel good about it."


• Create a Holiday Intention: We may find ourselves zipping through the holidays in a blind rush, forgetting what the season is truly about. Whatever your beliefs, pause for a moment and consciously consider what you feel the holidays are about, what is important to you. It might be spending time with family and friends, remembering what you are thankful for, or giving to those in need. There is no right or wrong intention, just whatever feels right for you. Once you've decided on your intention for this holiday season, jot it down somewhere. Whenever you feel stress or frustration creeping in, pause, take a deep breath, and remind yourself of your intention. For example (as you stand over the counter finishing your 20th batch of cookies for the day), "I'm making these cookies for my family and friends whom I love dearly and they will appreciate the thoughtful and delicious surprise treat when I deliver them." Reminding yourself of your intention will help you remember the meaning behind your holiday tasks, making them more enjoyable.

Wishing you a peaceful and happy holiday season!

Melinda Scime, Ph.D. is a psychologist at the University at Buffalo's Center for Children and Families. She specializes in working with school-aged children.

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