Do you ever feel like you just have to "survive" the holidays? What if you could do this one thing and make it through the holidays with your joy intact?
I look forward to the holidays, but I also want to survive the holidays. Every year, I find that I'm too easily engulfed by a tsunami of details — a school celebration; finding our family to sponsor and getting the gifts; or just figuring out what's on the schedule tomorrow at 5:30!
You practically need a Master's degree in "holiday planning and joy" and a spreadsheet to keep up with it all.
With all that I keep up with, the stress that my kids go through to survive the holidays can sometimes slip my mind.
Part of the wonder of the holidays is seeing them from your child's perspective. As an adult, the magical lights still overtake me with their beauty. I can only imagine how my boys see them! I know that nothing melts my heart faster than seeing that look of wonder on their faces.
But, believe it or not, this time of year is stressful for children and adults alike.
Sometimes it's hard to imagine that the season of Santa can be tough for kids. There are parties and gifts; sugary treats and candies everywhere; as well as friends and extra late bedtimes.
That all sounds like heaven for kids, right?
Not so fast...
With the magic and the wonder, come many new experiences that they may or may not be prepared to handle so that they can survive the holidays.
They'll encounter new people, maybe ones who want to hug them or sit too close or squish their little cheeks.
They'll be exposed to new foods, some of which they may dislike or be afraid to try.
And everyone has an Aunt Marge. Maybe Aunt Marge gives them ugly socks that they would rather die than be caught wearing.
The there's the passing of time - it's too fast if they are enjoying themselves and never fast enough when they are exercising their patience muscles.
I try to think about the holidays from my kids' perspective. They are continually amped up with excitement about everything that's going on - photos with Santa, parties, celebrations at school, stockings, candies, toy catalogs, planning service projects - it's all very exciting! And then they have to handle so many new experiences during the holidays.
The truth is, even for many adults, new situations can be challenging.
So here's what I try to remember to always do. It's simple, but not always easy. I work to prepare them before new experiences.
Yes, my trick is simple, old-fashioned preparation for you and your family to survive the holidays.
Three Tips To Help Your Kids Prepare for the Holidays
If you work with your kids to prepare them for new situations, or even just give a quick reminder, it can make a world of difference in how they respond.
You can do this no matter how old your kids are. Younger kids will require more detailed preparation and older kids may just need a quick reminder of the behavior that you expect.
Here are three steps to take to really prepare kids for novel situations that they will surely encounter over the holidays.
1. Have a conversation about what your kids can expect.
Try to give them the information the way a journalist would gather it. By that, I mean let them know who, what, when, why, and where. What is the event? Is it a formal sit-down dinner or a casual cross-country ski outing? Who will be there? Children love to know that they will see a friend or two.
Explain when you will be going and how long you will be staying. Why are you going? Is this an event that you're attending because it will be a lot of fun or a more formal obligatory office function? You likely have different expectations of your children in different situations, and understanding why really helps them be at their best! Is the venue one they are comfortable in and familiar with?
Always let your children know the level of interaction that they will have with you. This will help younger children feel more secure and will tip older ones off to your expectations. Will you always be with them? Or will they be on their own with friends?
2. Let your kids know what your holiday expectations are.
How do you expect them to behave? For older kids, this may just be more of a reminder. For younger kids, they will need a more detailed explanation with examples. Make suggestions and even brainstorm about ways that you can support them so that they will easily meet your expectations.
You can really turn this into a fun experience or game - no matter the age of your child. Elementary age children love role playing! Both role-playing and modeling your expectations are great ways to prepare children for what they will encounter. It makes them feel experienced and smart and gives them confidence that they will be successful.
Examples of supporting children may include staying for a limited amount of time, bringing activities that will occupy them or that they can share with friends, bringing food that you know your child will like and eat, or anything else you can brainstorm!
3. Remind them you trust them to make good choices.
Finally, I also let them know that there may be some situations that we don't anticipate or talk about. That's just life! I remind them that I'm confident in their ability to make good choices and tell them that I expect them to make the best choices given what we've talked about. Tell them this and watch them puff up with pride!
Helping kids and your whole family survive the holidays and actually celebrate them joyously comes down to preparing your kids for what lies ahead!
P.S. Zina here! Hey, I want to take a quick moment to share this with you...
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Karen is a former attorney turned stay-at-home midlife mama. She and her partner of 17 years have two young boys who have surprised her and transformed her world from one of practicing law to one big hot mess filled with love, joy, frustration and a boatload of imperfection. You can find Karen writing about midlife parenting, health, mama musings, and inspiration and motivation online here:
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