The holidays are supposed to be a time to create cheerful, heartwarming, and magical memories with the ones we love dearly. A time we spend laughing and catching up with family and friends, all the while eating and drinking too much. For parents, it can also be a time of financial stress, overwhelming schedules, and little sleep. That sense of being overwhelmed doesn’t stop at us though, if anything our children feel it more and they need our help to assist them to be in control of their emotions and to be able to call for a time out where they can just check out for a while.
Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers (more obviously that school aged children) struggle to communicate with us because they either can’t or they’re in the stages of developing those tools to do so whether it be body language, verbal skills, or physical cues. The overwhelming schedules, people to meet, and too many treats can quickly lead to behaviour and emotional meltdowns at the most inconvenient times for us parents. I know how I feel as an adult in many situations over the holidays and we have to respect and be aware of the fact that for children this is amplified as we can communicate our needs- they are learning to. All children have a limit to how long they can play nice with Aunt so-and-so or their cousins, how long they want to help Grandma or Grandpa prepare a meal, how long they can not touch that Christmas tree and just watch it glisten, how long they can wear that stupid bow in their hair or tie around their neck, how many times they can eat turkey, and the list goes on and on, before meltdown mania occurs and you’re left pleading for them to just give you a little more time to visit and enjoy yourself because Christmas only happens once a year.
I’m not going to say that this can easily be avoided, however you can watch for signs that emotional unrest is making a clear landing. Each child is different and for some it happens a lot sooner that others in overwhelming situations. We learn to know our children’s individual signs and then what? We need to be there for them and help them to check out for a moment (or many), redirect, and rejoin (or not). If we miss these opportunities, each time these types of events occur, our children will trust us less and less, may become sad or angry, and may just very well decide to act out because no one listens to them anyways.
I wanted to share with you what works for my family and I want to hear what works for yours. Sometimes all it takes is trying something new or tweaking what we’re already doing. I have one child who adores extended family and soaks up the chance to mingle and entertain. Once she starts to dislike being touched, wanders around aimlessly, and finds me among the crowd, she is done and is telling everyone that she needs to be rescued and check-out for a while to recharge. I have another child who likes to mingle for a few seconds, but ultimately likes to play with his cousins or alone and to run around at a million miles an hour. Once he’s been in an area with lots going on and lots of noise, there is a switch that flicks and he’s in destruction and physical aggression mode. This is where my husband and I have to come in and hopefully catch that switch before it happens by assisting (rescue) him to check out, redirect, and rejoin. It is our job to offer him the tools to be able to eventually recognize these signs on his own and communicate his needs to us in a more mature manner. Some children need more help than others developing these skills.
When checking out, we redirect to different activities or actions (in no particular order):
- Nap & quiet time– our children still nap on a normal day however, if nap time is missed, a quiet time is in order. Whether it’s reading, playing a game, watching a movie, ipad time, listening to music quietly or whatever works in that moment, quiet time really helps to redirect, reenergize, and rejoin.
- Sensory play– I have been known to pack around a sensory bin or two to be there when my children (or others) need to redirect. If too wound up, it just ends up in a big mess and does the complete opposite of redirecting for my son, however a rice bin for my daughter is so soothing and therapeutic. “Calm down Bottles” are another option for travel sensory item (I used the instructions from A Crafty LIVing on Instagram). Mad Matt-r is also a sensory tool that is awesome for redirecting and it is mess-free! The hand motions of working with a play-doh like substance is like using a stress ball for little hands.
- Building & puzzles– This is more so for my son, but redirecting him to build something or complete a puzzle that is at his level is therapeutic to him. He needs an end game in mind and is a task completer. Offering him something to do and being present while he is doing so helps him to redirect.
- Cuddling– Sometimes a good cuddle is all that is needed. Never underestimate the power of human touch and breath.
- Send them outside! It’s harder in the winter to do this because we have to pack so much gear, however often, I just throw on their outerwear and send them outside to burn off some steam. A walk with them is also beneficial and there is always a family member who’s itching to get outside too to keep a person company. The fresh air, lack of chatter noise, and sunlight is good for the soul.
- Travel activities– There are those great travel activities that are virtually mess-free for all ages that can be brought along. Below are some of my favourites. They work great for restaurants, doctors’ offices, etc. Offer children a quiet space if possible to do these activities to redirect.
- Essential oils– When at home, it is easier to have something circulating throughout the house to aid in calming and focusing the senses. When out, the ease of oil use can be tricky, however, preparing a little container with a carrier oil for travel application purposes or using something like Purple Frog Aromatherapy Pods works great.
- Healthy Snacks– Often the holidays bring high sugar diets and foods we wouldn’t normally eat. If you are able to offer healthy snacks (even if you have to bring your own), this could make a big difference in how your child controls their emotions. If you have diet-sensitive children like mine, this could make or break a holiday function. I’m not going to go into the nitty-gritty of it all, as this could be it’s own post, however there is much to be considered when it comes to diet and behaviour.
This list isn’t the be-all and end-all, however it is what works best for us. Learning communication signs can take time and can be tricky to manage at first, but once you have a system that works for your family, your children will thank you and you will feel far more relaxed in busy situations.
As a side note, I believe that we as parents as well need to be advocates for our children and that we know when help is needed and when it is not. We all have those family members who are the best of help with our children and those other family members who try so hard to help, but just aren’t. Don’t be afraid to kindly explain that you know what’s best, that your child needs you at that moment, and that you can certainly send your child their way once they are ready to rejoin. Also, don’t forget to thank those lifesaver family members who are awesome, work their magic, help without asking, and know just the right things to do and say at the right time.
Wishing you and your families a memorable holiday season filled with warmth, laughter, and health where ever you may be. Please don’t forget to share your holiday survival techniques!