Happy Holiday Parenting
Preventing and Managing Challenging Child Behavior Over the Holidays
Posted November 24, 2016
Although we strive to make the holidays a special time, the fact is that all of the traveling, hosting, and holiday preparations increase parenting stress and disruptions to your family’s routine that can ultimately lead to more challenging child behavior. And nothing dampens holiday joy like tantrums, arguments, and a bad case of the “I want’s”. Here are a few tips to help you keep the Happy in “Happy Holidays” and get through them with minimal(ish) challenging child behavior. To help you keep these tips in mind, I listed them using the word HOLIDAYS. Crafty, huh?
H is for Happiness: They are supposed to be Happy Holidays, so find ways to share some happy moments with your child. One of the most important things you can do to prevent an increase in negative, attention-seeking child behavior is to carve out small bits of “special time” with your child. This is a 5-minute period dedicated to enjoying a fun activity with your child while giving them lots of positive attention. You can also find fun ways to engage them in the holiday preparations with you (e.g., baking) and use lots of labeled praise to tell them exactly what you appreciate about their behavior. Altogether, these strategies will help you keep the happy in the holidays with your kids.
O is for Organization: To minimize stress and frustration, do your best to get organized. This includes having a plan for shopping (and the dreaded wrapping), traveling, hosting, and preparing all those delicious holiday treats and meals. Stress and frustration can easily build up if things aren’t going the way you hoped, which will be more likely if you don’t have a plan. So write your to-do list and check it twice, then adjust it accordingly when the plan goes awry. Use whatever organizational method works best for you… I’m sure there’s an app for that!
L is for Leading by example: Children learn by watching and listening to you, so all of those expectations you have about manners and social etiquette have to be taught and modeled by you. Some common ones include mealtime manners, being good hosts when you have guests, and managing frustration when things don’t go their way. For example, consider how you might handle the unavoidable and stressful holiday travel delays and be aware of the message you could send your children about how to handle stressful situations if you lose your cool. So, after teaching (and re-teaching!) these social rules, be mindful that you are demonstrating them as well.
I is for Ignoring: I don’t mean relatives you may not be so happy to see. I’m talking about ignoring minor child misbehavior. Because of everything you have going on around the holidays, plus having your child home with you for longer periods of time while they’re on winter break from school, you may find that your threshold for even minor misbehavior may be particularly low. This can lead to frequent reprimands and overreactions. I know this is easier said than done, but try your best to choose your parenting battles.
D is for Developing Rules (and other clear expectations): And making those clear to your child. I often refer to this as “posting the speed limit.” Most of us know that if you go over the posted speed limit when driving, you risk getting a ticket. Similarly, you want to make sure your child knows both what the “speed limit” is and what the negative consequences are for “speeding”. This will help them more carefully consider the consequences of their actions in advance and will also make it less likely that you’ll overreact while feeling frustrated. You should also establish positive rewards for following the rules, and don’t forget that labeled praise!
A is for Anticipating: Take a few minutes to consider (or actually make a list of) the various activities your child will participate in over the holidays – shopping, long car trips or flights, visiting relatives, religious services, etc. For each situation, try to identify the types of challenges your child may experience, likely starting with boredom. The dreaded “I’m bored” scenario puts many parents on edge. Although you certainly don’t have to plan out a minute-by-minute list of fun to manage your child’s boredom, the more you anticipate, the more you can develop strategies to minimize the challenges that may arise.
Y is for Y.O.U.: Yes, you matter too! I can’t overstate how important it is for you to practice good self-care and manage your own stress. Don’t mistake “lots to do” for “stressed”. Stress is your reaction to having a lot to do and to other stressors (e.g., financial difficulties, challenging child behavior, etc.). Managing your stress reaction is critical to your ability to get through the holidays (and life!) and to managing your child’s behavior effectively. Learn to recognize your own signs of stress and find ways to reduce your stress before it builds up (and bursts!). In other words, take care of Y.O.U.
S is for sugar… no wait, S is for Structure: Structure is the key to minimizing challenging child behavior. In addition to the tips related to organization and developing rules discussed above, maintaining good daily routines is essential. This includes sticking to your child’s sleep and mealtime routines as much as possible. You can also create a daily schedule that includes planned activities, downtime, and times when any mandatory activities must be completed (e.g., school assignments, chores, etc.). You can be a little looser over the holidays, but don’t abandon all structure. And sure, you can have some sugar too.
Remember, the goal is to anticipate, prevent, and manage your child’s behaviors as effectively as possible, while also enjoying this special time with them. And when the last gift has been opened, and the last guest is gone, have the last cookie and fondly look forward to doing it all over again next holiday season.