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Behavior Challenges during the Holidays

Alicia Skiles, MS, NCC, LPC-IT, SAC-IT, Professional Counselor

Do you notice changes in your children’s behavior around the holidays? Does there seem to be more whining? More demanding? More attitude? It can be disenchanting to try to get to everything on your to do list amidst the emotional roller-coaster ride on which our children seem to hop.girl-789868_1920

So what inspires children to purchase a ticket to this metaphor? There is no one answer. In truth, there are lots of little and big things that affect the way children behave (or misbehave) this time of year. Many entrances to our allegorical ride, if you will.

The holidays are a time of disrupted routines. While this is usually exciting for children,   it is also taxing. Anticipation of presents, relatives coming into town, travel, candy, distracted parents, snow… there are many things causing them to run around the living room. There are also more opportunities to stay up later, consume unhealthy foods, miss out on rest times, jump from one event to another (family dinners, children’s concerts, shopping and other traditions) and, for many children the added reminders (or threats) that if they do not listen, Santa will be getting a call.

So what can you do? The following are some tips to help. A little preparation on your part can go a long way.

  1. Let your child in on the plans at the beginning of each day and remind them or ask them what comes next. For example, “Today we are going to get dressed, eat breakfast, put all of our snow stuff on and go looking for a tree to cut down. When we get back home, we will not put it up right away because we will eat lunch, have rest and then put it up together… then comes decorating.” For young children, drawing out pictures of itineraries can be helpful and the children can take the schedules with them. A written schedule works well for children that can read. And older children may have plans of their own they would like to throw in.
  2. Give children a heads up for transitions. For example “In ten minutes we will be leaving grandma’s house for shopping…..Now you have five more minutes, please remember that I am going to ask you to clean up next time….Okay,  now it is time to pick up, how can I help you get this put away so we can go.” Such preparation typically goes over much smoother than saying to a child, “it’s time to go now,” while they are playing.
  3. If your child does snap at you, yell or completely melt down. Your reaction should be calm and specific. One example (for attitude) is “Your response was not appropriate, please say what you are trying to say differently or you will not be able to (insert appropriate consequence). Another example (for melt downs) is “I can see that this is difficult for you because you are crying and sitting on the floor.  When you are ready we can talk about our options” or “I am going to pick you up and help you get into the car.
  4. Don’t sacrifice down time to get things done. Children still need rest and parents need breaks. Plan ahead so that you still meet your needs and your child’s needs. Parents sometimes sit right next to their children on the emotional roller-coaster so be aware of your own stressors and ask for help if needed.