The holiday season is upon us! And, whilst the picture-perfect, Insta family would have us believe that this season is to be full of family baking sessions, deluxe decorations (inside and outside the house), nights out at community events, gourmet meals, and even a beach holiday, many of us know that in reality, the holiday season with young children can be less than glamorous. There are plenty of beautiful moments that make for incredible memories for sure, however, quite often all the combined events, mixed with extra late nights and added socializing can be one that for some children can be quite overwhelming. And, this sense of overwhelm, like all of us, is then communicated in the form of our child’s behaviour as they try to navigate and process how they feel and what to do with how they feel.
With young children quite often (as their little brains are still developing) this behaviour at times will be big, intense, disruptive, and inconvenient (especially when it’s in the middle of a family lunch or dinner or when the wrong present is given out!). If I am to be honest, there have been so many moments over the years with my own children when their sense of overwhelm has really ‘gotten in the way’ of plans, interrupting what I wanted and hoped things to be.
So, whilst I’m far from perfect, from within the ‘trenches’ of parenting young children and learning myself to navigate the chaos and view the ‘mess’ as opportunities for growth and learning, here are my 5 key tips for supporting children AND looking after ourselves as parents over the holiday season:
1) Be realistic: Young children have underdeveloped brains (the part of their brain responsible for reasoning, planning etc is not fully developed until in their twenties). So, even at the best of times, without the late nights and extra events, they are desperately learning to navigate their world. Sometimes our plans as adults unintentionally set our kiddies up to struggle. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have those plans (eg. attending different community events or staying up later than usual), however, it does mean we may see ‘bigger emotions’ from our little people who don’t quite have the processing abilities we do. This brings me to my second point….
2) Empathy. Always: One of my favorite quotes that I’m constantly convicted by as a parent is by L.R Knost, “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.”If your child is struggling at a social event and their behaviour is ‘less than desired’, pause and reflect from your child’s perspective (remembering their underdeveloped brain too!). As best you can, remain calm and connected to your child, leaning into the mess of the big emotions they are experiencing as an opportunity for connection. (There is a great article here that has some practical tips!).
3) Support your child to feel as much sense of autonomy as possible: This will look different in different situations however, an example of this is giving your child choices within boundaries (choice helps a child feel more in control, reducing anxiety, whilst boundaries also offer a sense of security). For example, “When we get to Nanna’s for lunch today, I know sometimes it can feel hard for you when everyone wants to hug and kiss you. Your body belongs to you so how about we come up with a plan. Would you like to wave a “hello” or “give a high five?” (Then the key is following up with support and verbalizing your child’s choice upon arrival so they feel safe and connected to you).
4) Find moments for rest: This applies to little people AND big people. If possible, try to find small moments for quiet connection with your child/children when a day is particularly busy with events. It might mean finding a quiet space for a little check-in and cuddle or spending a few minutes extra in the quiet car before getting out to ‘socialize’. I see it like charging your’s and your child’s battery pack when it’s needing to use the extra power!
5) Be gentle with yourself and your children: This time of year, each family’s journey and experience look different. Whilst it can feel overwhelming to not give in to the perceived pressures of what the holiday season should be like, we also must know our capacity as parents and the capacity of our children also. Keep checking in with YOURSELF – remember, one of the greatest impacts on our children’s stress levels is those of our own!
May this holiday season, after yet another year of uncertainty, loss, and confusion for many of those in our community be a time where we consciously prioritize connection with our children and loved ones. Whilst raising young children can be full of challenges and disappointments and can make the holiday season more complicated at times, our children are also one of life’s greatest gifts. So, this holiday season, even in and through the messy moments, let us choose to cherish them.
Heidi Denner is a wife, mum, and educator who is continually inspired by all she learns from the children she works with daily, (and in particular her own three children). As a mother to an autistic child, Heidi is an advocate for children’s needs, but also understands the significance of family mental health and wellbeing and how this is critical to a child’s overall development. As an avid reader and life-long learner regarding all things “neuroscience”, Heidi loves sharing current research regarding brain development so that families can understand how to best support their child’s needs and their own personal mental health and wellbeing.