With the holiday season in full gear now, parents of young children have asked how to prevent meltdown during this hectic time of year. I wanted to pass along my response as it may help many of you plan ahead.
Q: Every holiday season, we travel to see relatives, eat too many sweets and are exhausted because the kids miss naps and get to bed late. Consequently, our toddlers behave badly during this time of year. It seems like all we do is discipline them. What can we do to help our two little ones with their behavior during this hectic time?
You’ve already pointed out the problem—disruption of routine, poor nutrition and sleep. Add the hype of the holidays and you have over-stimulated, sugar-crazed, sleepless kids who will act out more than usual. But with a little prevention, you can minimize their inappropriate behavior.
Here is how:
1) Routines and rituals.
Try to keep as many going as you can. Even when you travel, insist on a regular bedtime. Take their favorite toy, stuffed animal or blanket for reassurance and familiarity. If possible, make naps a priority and plan around them. Whatever you can do to approximate their normal schedule will help.
2) Choose TV shows and videos carefully.
Pick shows and videos that are calming and present the true meaning of Christmas. If you can record shows, bypass commercials so that the constant barrage of toys is minimized. Limit time in front of screens and take your kids out to exercise and work off some of their excitement and energy.
3) Insist on healthy eating despite the extra snacks.
Prepare meals versus grabbing fast food on the run. Allow special treats, but monitor how many they are eating.
4) Inform your kids regarding activities.
Tell them where you are going and what is expected in terms of their behavior. Ahead of time, discuss rewards for appropriate behavior rather than waiting to discipline for acting out.
5) Stick to your traditions.
Keep as many family traditions as possible as these are comforting to children.
6) Laugh as a family.
The more fun and laughter in a home, the less stressed everyone will be.
Notice that all of these tips focus on keeping routines, eating well and getting rest—three known ways to help a child with his or her behavior. If you provide these basics, the extra stress of the holidays will go better for all of you.