We are moving into the holiday season as noticed by the days getting shorter and cooler. As a mother of three, I get both excited and feel some trepidation as the holidays approach. While they most often bring joy, thankfulness and connection to family, they can also create stress. I certainly had my share of stumbles and less than peaceful family get-togethers when my children were younger.
In this 3-part series on holidays with young children, I will share what I’ve learned over many years as both a parent and a professional working with toddlers to make this potentially trying time of year a win-win for your whole family.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY: Slow down, set reasonable expectations and keep it simple.
Keep it simpler this year. The less you plan to do, the more you will actually accomplish and enjoy. And anyway, holidays should be most about connecting to people you care about and these connections imprint upon your child loving associations with the holiday season. So rather than cooking a series of lavish meals, visiting countless relatives and friends, and shopping for the perfect present for everyone on your list, set simpler goals in November and December. I know families who have holiday potlucks to share in the cooking. Include your toddler in this endeavor, too. Young ones love to get their hands messy in the kitchen and feel like they are helping out.
If you are spending the upcoming holiday out of town, plan to visit one or two friends or family members at a time (versus large groups of overjoyed family members who haven’t seen your children in a year), and travel to no more than two destinations in a day. You might simplify the visiting by picking one afternoon for guests to come to you so that you give your children a break. Being dragged from place to place is a recipe for toddler meltdown. The idea is to keep your plans simple so your toddler doesn’t get overwhelmed.
Less is more. Accompany simplicity with the idea that less is more. I used to feel anxiety over my list of gifts to buy, decorations to hang, holiday cards to send. The details can get to be a bit much and detract from having fun (which is the whole point!). If you are feeling stressed with the pressure to do-it-all, then imagine how your impulsive, easily excited little one feels? Your child will quickly mimic your mood and become even more over-stimulated by the season. Doing “less” means less running around, fewer presents (truly, your child will be happier with a few small gifts or one bigger extravagance to focus on). It also means keeping in mind that the most joyful part of the holidays for your toddler is spending time with you. All the other extras don’t matter as much.
Be mindful of your expectations. This means keeping expectations reasonable for what you can manage and for what your child can handle. Start by reminding yourself how little your toddler is. Even five and six-year-olds can get quickly thrown off their game when their routine is changed. If you expect the unexpected you won’t be surprised when your toddler suddenly cannot sit through another minute of the holiday meal or if your typically happy child clings to you at a relative’s house. Tantrums and crankiness are not unusual when regular naptimes, mealtimes and down time is missed. To save the merriment from crashing, try a few of my favorite holiday tricks. Have a few toys in your bag for when your child needs a distraction or a break from the big meal. Also, don’t be afraid to politely excuse yourselves from the table and retreat into a quiet room. I find that adults savor these breaks from the crowd, too. A little time-out for both of you is often refreshing, and if it’s not too late in the evening, you can return to the festivities when ready.
Traditions begin with now. Lasting memories are made from traditions. We often think of traditions as those we adopted from our parents, grandparents, and maybe even our great-grandparents. These traditions are lovely, and feel free to incorporate them. But now that you have your own children, consider starting new rituals that will become particular to your family. When my boys reached a certain age, they each received their own menorah to light. Now at Chanukah, our family lights three menorahs and our special ceremony is both brilliant and all ours.
Whatever you choose to do this holiday season, take time to notice all you have to be thankful for. Children learn to be thankful when we model it for them. Read more about thankfulness in my piece in Healthy Living Made Simple.