I love this time of the year. The holidays we celebrate serve as an important reminder to be thankful for what we have – including each other – and help others in need. I love how holiday celebrations from many religions and cultures share a similar purpose and bring out the best in people. However, holidays can also be a difficult time for many families, and heightened stress and tension can highlight our human flaws. Holidays can quickly become something “to get through” instead of a time for reflection and celebration. Sound familiar?
This monthly column provides tips for anyone who is helping raise children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m visiting my family for a week over the holidays, which means traveling with two young children (2 and 5). We’re staying at my parents’ house, and my kids tend to have epic meltdowns when they’re in unfamiliar places. My relatives like to give me unwanted parenting advice since I’m a single dad, and I really don’t want to deal with that. Got any tips for me?
Many children and adults love the excitement and special activities during the holidays, but it can also be a stressful time. Hectic schedules, endless shopping, high expectations, tight budgets, family conflict or different beliefs about holiday celebrations can all create enormous pressure on parents. Holidays can be hard for children, too, if they get bored, tired, hungry, over-stimulated or overwhelmed. Children often communicate their needs and feelings through behaviors such as whining, complaining, tantrums and refusing to follow directions — adding to parents’ stress. Here are a few tips to try:
Maintain your children’s daily routines for eating, sleeping and playing. The predictability of daily routines helps children feel secure and can prevent meltdowns caused by being tired, hungry, over-stimulated or overwhelmed. Ask family members about their plans for mealtimes, visits, exchanging gifts or other holiday activities, and let them know about your children’s schedules. This allows you to discuss whether any plans can be modified so your children can participate, or at least helps others understand that your children may have to follow a different schedule than the adults.
Talk to your children about your holiday plans. Talk about your travel plans, which relatives they will see, as well as any important family, cultural or religious traditions. Talk about what it will be like to stay at their grandparents’ house – what room they’ll sleep in, any rules they’ll have to follow and how it will be different from being at home. Talking with children not only increases their vocabulary and thinking skills, but also gives them a “mental picture” of what to expect, which helps prepare them to face unfamiliar situations.
Have simple, engaging activities ready for your children. This helps prevent meltdowns caused by boredom or restlessness. Take healthy snacks, some books and a few of their favorite toys on your trip. Play guessing games, make up stories or sing along to your favorite songs. And let’s face it – letting children have a modest amount of age-appropriate screen time (TV, movies, video games, computer) can give both children and parents a much-needed break after constant activities and socializing.
Encourage the behavior you want to see more of. Give your children descriptive praise when they are being kind, helping others, following family rules or expressing their feelings appropriately. This shows them you appreciate their efforts and encourages them to keep it up.
Take time for yourself. Being a single parent during the holidays while surrounded by advice-giving relatives can be incredibly stressful. It’s important to find ways to relieve stress before it affects your ability to enjoy the holidays with your family. If possible, ask another family member to watch your children so you can do something you enjoy, such as catching up with a relative, getting some exercise or sitting in a quiet room by yourself.
Final thoughts: Holidays provide special opportunities to enjoy quality family time, but they can also add stress and pressure for many families. Try a few of these positive parenting strategies to help you and your family not just survive, but thrive, during this holiday season.
Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 13 and 16, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program, the world's leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. For more information, including classes and one-on-one meetings to help parents handle everyday parenting challenges, visit http://triplep.first5scc.org, www.facebook.com/triplepscc or www.youtube.com/triplepsantacruzco. To find a Triple P class or practitioner, contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or email@example.com.