By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
We all know that the holidays can be extremely stressful, overwhelming, and busy for parents. We sometimes forget that it is also a busy, overstimulating, and, at times, difficult period for kids.
I know, most of us feel it would be AMAZING to go back and be kids on holidays again. Wouldn’t having someone else do all the prep, cooking, cleaning, buying, planning, etc., for us be fantastic?
It honestly would, but this does not necessarily mean it is a super easy time of year for all children. Suppose we, as parents, are too absorbed in our own experience. In that case, it can be really easy to project our feelings of frustration and being the ones to “take care of all the things” onto our kids. Sometimes, we perceive our kids, particularly those who struggle with emotional regulation (aka meltdown city during the holidays), as “entitled, ungrateful, selfish, etc.”
To help families manage their emotions during the holidays, I wanted to share some tips to help shift our mindsets in more helpful directions.
1. Manage Your Expectations
We can easily set up the most magical holiday ever and expect our children to be similarly magical and kind. This expectation is unfair, and if you have a child who tends to struggle on big occasions that involve a lot of anticipation, it makes sense that they may be contentious during the holiday season. We should expect it to be challenging at times so that we are not surprised and interpret their behavior negatively.
Remember that your child is most likely overwhelmed and genuinely doing their best to meet their needs and to figure out how to cope with something that feels bigger than their coping skills. While it is hard to be the parent of a child who struggles with big feelings, it can also be tough to be the child who is struggling. Having empathy for their experience and remembering that they are a good kid who is having a hard time will help you respond with more patience and kindness.
2. Listen to Your Child
Listening might sound strange, but if your child is telling you that the plans you have made are too much or that they are too tired, overwhelmed, or excited, try to listen. I know it can be hard to shift plans once they are made, especially during the hustle and bustle of the holidays, but if your child is genuinely struggling with their emotions and behavior, it makes sense to scale things back.
Also, if they are communicating that they feel overwhelmed, don’t want to hug people, or don’t want to be asked certain questions, see if you can set things up so that those situations do not occur. You can set boundaries around how much time you engage in certain events, which events you attend, and even with your family members about how they treat your child.
It will go better if, as you and your child approach situations, you try to work together to figure things out to have the best time possible. You can even discuss ahead of time how to cope with difficult situations, especially if your child is older and aware that these situations are challenging for them.
3. Connection and Boundaries
I know these are my favorite topics lately, especially since I developed my mini-parenting courses all about these topics… But they are good ones that totally apply here. As mentioned above, connecting and listening to your child can be incredibly helpful during busy holidays. Making sure that you take the time to listen, play, and connect with them in the ways you usually do during typical days can help maintain your connection even when things become challenging or overwhelming.
Similarly, setting boundaries around things that lead to increased emotional dysregulation can be helpful. For example, our son tends to struggle if he gets too much screen time, sugar, or food containing artificial dyes. As a result, we tend to limit electronics and less healthy food choices, especially during big events like birthdays or other events, which can lead him to be even more dysregulated. While it is not the most “fun” parenting opinion, I believe that setting him up for success is more important than letting him indulge and get super out of control!
I hope these parenting tips can help you manage situations that arise at this time of year! If you would like to discuss any of these topics further, feel free to reach out to our team for a parent consultation :) If you want to learn more about Connecting and Setting Boundaries with your child, check out our mini-parenting courses!
If you are interested in learning more about connecting with your child please make sure to sign up for our newsletter! Dr. Wollerman has launched mini parenting courses! You do not want to miss it!
At Thrive, we take a positive, client-centered approach to therapy that is focused on creating a genuine connection with our clients. If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy we offer in person and telehealth via video sessions, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
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