By Nancy Jost
The winter holidays can be a wonderful time for families to gather, reconnect and celebrate. For many, however, the holidays can cause stress or other difficult emotions.
Babies and toddlers take their cues from the caregivers around them and increased family tension can be upsetting for very young children. Fortunately, there are ways that parents and caregivers can minimize stress during the holidays, both for themselves and for their very young children.
To help your young children through the holidays, think S-E-A-S-O-N.
S is for structure and routine
The holidays can be a whirlwind of events. Visits to and from relatives, late evening gatherings and last-minute trips to over-crowded shopping malls are just some of the activities that can throw a young child off schedule and, ultimately, off balance. Although a certain amount of disruption is inevitable during the holidays, parents should try their best to keep up with basic routines.
E is for expectations
The holiday season can bring with it some high, often unreasonable expectations. Families are given the message that this is a period of great "joy" when in fact a wide range of emotions may be experienced, such as loneliness, mental and physical fatigue, and depression.
Children are not born with high expectations of expensive gifts and fancy celebrations. They learn those kinds of expectations over time from those around them. Parents and caregivers should take pride in knowing that they are doing the best they can under very challenging circumstances and provide gifts and time within their limitations.
A is for awareness
Babies and toddlers may pick up on the roller coaster of emotions experienced by their parents during the holiday season; this emotional upset is often reflected in a young child's behavior. Parents and caregivers who understand this connection between stress and behavior may have an easier time supporting their young children. Rather than focusing only on the behavior (such as increased irritability, sleep changes, clinginess, etc.), they can take a step back and try to figure out what's behind their children's behavior.
S is for self-care
In a hectic holiday season filled with events and obligations, it can become more challenging for parents to recognize and remember their own needs. It is so important that family members engage in activities that nourish their bodies and rejuvenate their spirits. Self-care activities may include: taking naps whenever possible; seeing supportive friends or family; enjoying sports, reading; journaling or taking walks. Parents and caregivers who support themselves are, ultimately, supporting their families by increasing their capacity to provide loving, nurturing environments for themselves and for their children.
O is for opportunity
The sentiment of the holiday season provides a prime opportunity to revisit old customs or to start some new ones. Take time to talk to your child about their heritage; visit an elderly relative, friend or someone you haven't seen for awhile. Too often, children (and parents) get wrapped up in the commercialized part of the holidays and forget the true reason for the celebration.
N is for 'nesting'
For a very young child, the sights and sounds of the holidays can be dizzying, often leading to over-stimulation. Fortunately, the home can be made into a kind of retreat, a place where babies and toddlers can wind down from the frenzied pace of the season and settle in for the evening. Family routines and holiday rituals can become an opportunity for quiet, relaxed family time. A young child can look forward to watching the holiday candles being lit, taking a bath, having a holiday book read, listening to quiet holiday music, and then drifting off to sleep. Parents, too, can see this "nesting" time as an opportunity to break free from daily stress, enjoy special moments with their young children, and refuel for the next day.
Nancy Jost is Early Childhood Coordinator for West Central Initiative.