Kelly Everson, PsyD and Brandi Rials, PsyD
Many of the things that are meant to be enjoyable about the holidays are miserable for our kids. Loud noises, bright lights, crowds, unstructured days, guests invading their personal space and asking questions are all triggers and can result in melt downs, temper tantrums or withdrawal. There is added stress for the family preparing for time off of work/school, travel, economic constraints (holidays are expensive!!), and then trying to manage relatives.
SO what can be done to make the holidays more agreeable to the whole family?
- First, DO NOT FORGET TO BREATHE.
- Make a fun, colorful calendar for the holiday events that you have planned. Allow the kids to add things they want (even if it is video game day) so they are invested in it. Post it somewhere they can easily see. This gives them fair warning that they have to engage in certain family activities and they know what to expect.
- Be as flexible as possible. Recognize that your kids are going through a difficult time (yes, adolescence in general is a very difficult stage of development) and may need a little more space than in previous years.
- Work out a reasonable schedule with them. For example, maybe they are refusing to go to Aunt Mildred’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Try to negotiate a time frame you are comfortable with, like going for lunch and then leaving or finding a place your child can escape to within in the house if you are traveling and away from home.
- Give them a time frame that they have to be present (say, “from 12-1 you have to be downstairs with everyone, then you can go to your room”).
- Help your child develop a script to use with prying or clueless relatives. Your child does not have to say anything beyond, “I go to XXX for school”. He/she can share as little or as much as she/he prefers about activities, classes, interests. Practice this script with your child while also rehearsing how to politely walk away from the person if they are continuing to question.
- Let them control what they can control. Provide the kids with reasonable, limited choices. “Sunday we are going out as a family, what would you like to do on Saturday?”
- Limit junk food and all-nighters.
- While kids do need down time and freedom, they can become nocturnal very quickly! They do eventually have to come back to school, so try to set a reasonable schedule toward the end of the break. 3-4 days before coming back to school try to get them closer to their school wake/sleep schedules.
Lastly, relax and enjoy your holidays!