Michael’s List of Holiday Parent Pointers
By Michael Reisman, M.Ed.
Director, HCYMCA Early Childhood Education
It’s that time of year again! The time where we do whatever it takes to prepare for annual holiday traditions. For some it’s travel. For some it’s prepping the home and hosting large or small groups. For some it also means cooking and baking. For many it means overspending for the sake of children’s joy. And for CHILDREN, the be all and end all tend to be wish lists, expectations, and behavioral bargaining. Think about the Elf on the Shelf’s judgmental eye, and of course, Santa’s naughty/nice list. As joyous and amazing as it all can and should be, it can also be quite stressful, especially for our children. With the added anxiety the holiday season can cause for adults, it’s easy to project our anxiety onto children, compounding the regular day to day issues and challenges. My parents did it to me and I know I do it.
I’ll never forget the annual raising of the behavioral bar when my folks had Hanukkah leverage. We would light the beautiful menorah candles every night, but only my behavior would determine if I received a gift. I was all too aware of it all the time. No matter how I behaved, the anxiety and stress of the behavior “quid pro quo” did not abate until I opened my gifts.
I did some research and found that many published pieces make recommendations for controlling stress and anxiety during the holidays. Here’s Michael’s List of Holiday Parent Pointers, based in part on the links below and on my own experience in early childhood education and as a parent. I highly recommend reading the links, one even mentioned the Y (Empowering Parents).
- No Quid Pro Quo: Children learn from examples set by peers and adults, specifically parents and teachers. Considering how brains and behaviors work, either your child is too young to internalize how behavior improvement effects holiday outcomes, or your child is old enough that his or her “mode of being” has already been set. It is not too late for behavior modification, but it takes a lot longer and a lot more consistency than the holiday Wish List to accomplish change. Set a reasonable financial and emotional budget for your family and make the holiday season about more than presents. Try projects such as volunteering and sharing responsibilities on the holiday to-do lists.
- Take care of thy self: Don’t add unnecessary pressure on yourself to meet excessive expectations to come through for others during the holidays. Keeping your anxiety and stress lower through open-ended plans and building “me time” into the calendar will help manage expectations for yourself and others.
- Set aside quality time: Children can be wildcards and throw a wrench in the sprocket of our grand plans. When planning events and obligations, keep in mind that your children want your attention even MORE this time of year, and may go to great lengths to get it. To riff on a common saying, an ounce of proaction saves a pound of reaction. It may save tears and tempers to make sure your children know you are putting them first.
- Screen-time together: As part of quality time, employ your values for screen time into your family down time. I have found that my child places a higher value on watching movies and playing video games when my wife and I join him. It can be quite relaxing and snugly to watch holiday programs together as a break from planning, cleaning, cooking, and working.
- Stay active AND creative: The benefits of being active with your children and keeping them active are multi-fold. Children have lots of physical and creative energy. If you’ve got snow outside, get out in it with the kids and let them guide your play. If the weather is prohibitive, get creative inside. Board games stimulate the mind, as do open-ended art projects. Many children will do yoga with us at the Child Learning Center. Remember, you’ve also got the Y! Call our Deer Path Branch for open gym and swim times. Don’t be afraid to grant yourself a workout during ChildWatch hours at either Round Valley or Deer Path Branches. (If you don’t have a full facility family membership yet, call Michael at the Child Learning Center to sign up for a Healthy Family Membership – deeply discounted for Early Childhood families!) hcymca.org
Above all, be sure to check your own anxiety and expectations. You are a mom, dad, sister, brother, son, daughter, cousin, uncle, aunt, niece, and/or nephew. The pressure is on, so give yourself physical and emotional breaks. Remember, there’s always next year.
Please see the links below for more sound advice from experts on preserving your sanity during the holiday season, and have a happy, healthy New Year!