It is that time of the year! Ups and downs, shrieks of delight, and cries of anger can be heard throughout of our house during Christmas. These erratic mood swings, with the help of extra sugar, are not “magical” and can test any parent’s patience.
Take away the emotion from the holiday season, and what do you have left? Kids who have just lost their routines, their people, and their food and gained extra sugar servings, rushing from one place/activity to the next, more people, more lights, more sounds, and an “anticipation high” as the time for Santa Claus approaches.
The combination of these shifts, in an immature brain bombarded by new stimuli, causes the holiday chaos that parents experience. Keep in mind the pre-frontal cortex (the region responsible for self-control and social behaviors) is still maturing in children, so emotional crises turn into behaviors at the drop of a hat.
So, you have tantrums day in and day out.. during a season, we also hope for the “magical” family times and traditions to take place. What do we do?
Take the time to see if you can remove something from the equation. Bake cookies with relaxing music or read a Christmas story instead of spending the whole day at the mall. When friends and relatives ask for playdates, it is ok to say no when it all becomes too much. Remember that children wish for time with their family, smiles, and a sense of togetherness. Malls, shopping, loud music, and flashy lights are meant to be experienced in bite-sized chunks.
Make time for tantrums. You know they are coming. It is a typical reaction for your kid and inevitable in nature. So don’t resist them. When you see it coming, instead of freaking out along with your child, treat it as a natural part of the day, a consequence of choices made during the day. Regulate yourself first, then remove the kid from the stressful environment, sit down and listen. Be curious and understand what is too much so you know how to avoid it. Show empathy, listen and listen again, offer warm affection, and show the kid that you are solving it together. They have a friend in you who will go through it with them. Next time they might even tell you when it is all becoming too much before the tantrum.
The best thing to do, the only shortcut I know for the holiday season, is to try and create a routine as fast as possible and keep with it. Have flexibility, but compensate for it. Create predictability. Ask kids what is most important to them. Have them spend a family night at home, where they experience having a loving, tight family firsthand. Spend the next day at the mall. Let them experience both things and ask them their opinion. Maybe they preferred laughing at home and relaxing on the couch, maybe they liked running in and out of stores and looking at different knick-knacks. Not all days are the same, and not all moods are the same. Talk with the kids so they know what to expect.
One way or another, I applaud all of us for trying, even after a full day at the office.. do not exhaust yourself trying to create the perfect holidays. Remember to do something magical for yourself as well, take it easy and have fun…