Most people look forward to the holidays. The excitement of family traditions, the anticipated time off, and the feeling of happiness in the air all make this time of year feel so magical…..unless you have kids who are going to be off for a week (or longer) from school! Then this time of year may feel less magical. In my practice, I have come across this often as parents are often anticipating the stress which will undoubtedly arise while the kids are off from school. Parents worry about those dreaded phrases: “MOM, I’M BORED!”, “DAD, THERE IS NOTHING TO DO!”, “CAN WE GO SOMEWHERE FUN?!”. Andddddd cue the panic. If you are reading this and feeling as though you can relate, GREAT NEWS! You are not alone and this feeling of anticipatory anxiety is actually quite common.
In an effort to help reduce the stress families may feel this time of year, I am sharing some tips which may be helpful for parents to implement!
Keep A Routine!
This is incredibly important, especially if your child/children suffer from anxiety. Children need routine and structure. They may act as though they do not like it, but they do need it. Structure allows for consistency and consistency allows for a feeling of stability and safety. Now, I know this time of year is difficult as there are a lot of “extra” things going on, such as parties and get-togethers, etc. Do your best to keep routines as normal as possible. For example, make sure meal times and bed times are relatively the same, especially for younger children. Often times on breaks, children want to stay up later, snack throughout the day, and so forth but this causes tremendous difficulty for them when they try to transition back to the normal routine after their break ends. Sticking to a routine will also decrease the likelihood of meltdowns, arguments, or whining throughout the day. Also, sticking to a routine will reduce your stress level as a parent as well as it will provide a sense of normalcy, which adults need too!
The idea of keeping a routine with so much free time may seem daunting to some. A helpful way to break up the day is to have breakfast and then a morning activity. Then, have lunch and an afternoon activity, followed by dinner and the typical evening routine. Looking at the day this way makes it seem less “open” or “free”, so to speak. Also, have a conversation with your children about what the day and/or week will look like so they have an idea ahead of time. This is especially important if you have activities outside of the home planned. Often times children create their own ideas of what the day will look like and then when parents tell them otherwise, in real-time, they are unable to process it well enough and this leads to meltdowns or increased anxiety.
Yes, breaks are fun and a chance for everyone to catch up on sleep and relax, but they do not last forever. When kids get into a new routine on break, they have much difficulty transitioning back to their everyday routine when the break ends. Think of the difficulties even you as an adult experience after time off from work. It is always difficult to get back into the swing of things when you’ve had a fun-filled break! Save yourself the headache and stick to routine. Your future self-will thank you.
Do Not Over Schedule!
Over scheduling is so incredibly common, especially around the holidays. Parents see a calendar with multiple days “open” and try to cram as many activities in as possible. Now, activities here and there are absolutely fine and necessary, but too many activities can lead to exhaustion, for both you are your children. Try to pick a couple of activities or events to attend and say “no” to anything which doesn’t make the cut. (Side note: IT IS OK TO SAY “NO”! I actually encourage it.) Just because you were invited to a bunch of things does not mean you need to attend all of them. If you try to cram too many things into one day or even if you try to cram too many things in over multiple days, this will increase the likelihood of your child feeling exhausted, cranky, overstimulated, and thrown off their routine which will all increase the likelihood of meltdowns, tantrums, or arguments. Also, if you as a parent are feeling depleted by a busy schedule, you are more susceptible to engaging in arguments with your children as well.
Tackle Boredom From The Beginning!
The most classic line children love to throw out is, “I’m bored.” Followed by, “There is nothing to do.” This is often why parents decide to plan activities outside of the home vs. stay at home during breaks. Plan ahead. If you have younger children, a fun activity to do with them is to make an activity jar. You can use any materials you desire, although I recommend a mason jar or shoe box for functionality. Then, involve them in the process of creating this! Bust out the craft bin and get stickers, construction paper, markers, crayons, etc. and decorate the jar/box together!
Then, together, with their input, create a list of ideas of various activities to do while on break (I.e. crafts, coloring, play with new toys, play a board game, read a book, baking, etc.) Next, put each idea onto an individual small piece of paper and throw it into the jar. Each day, kids can blindly pick an activity out of the jar when they are feeling bored. The bonus of them being involved in this is that they came up with the ideas, so it increases the chances they’ll actually want to do the activity they pick. If you have older children, talk with them BEFORE break about ideas they have for their time off. This will allow for effective communication around their expectations of what break will look like and will allow for problem solving ahead of time in the event their expectations do not match reality.
Limit Screen Time!
Yes, their holiday break is a much-needed break, but this should not mean they immediately get unlimited screen time. Screen time in general should be limited as it is not healthy for children to be on their phones, tablets, laptops, video games, or sitting in front of the TV all day long. Children seem to think that breaks mean they have more time to do these things and this often leads to arguments between children and parents. Establish an amount of time ahead of time with your child that you’ll allow for them to utilize their screens. This way they know the time limit in advance and cannot try to ask for more time while you are telling them to get turn the device off. Also, utilize timers as a way to help them remember that their time is limited and when the timer goes off, they turn their device off. This will limit them accusing you of not keeping time correctly, thus leading to bargaining and negotiating for more time. Also talk about alternatives to screen time, similar to the previous tip, such as spending time with peers, getting some exercise, playing a game, etc. If you talk about these ideas ahead of time, it will allow for them to have time to come up with alternatives prior to being enthralled in their screen time.
Enjoy Family Time!
With busy schedules and academic obligations, family time seems more and more rare these days. It’s the holidays! So, enjoy the time you have with your children. Maybe plan a family movie night or a family game night during the time off. Or, create a new tradition together! Get creative! It is so important to take a break from the everyday hustle and bustle and just spend time together without the everyday pressure of life’s demands. Everyone, including you, will benefit from this!
Happiest of Holidays!
I would LOVE to know what spoke to you today and encourage you to comment below and share with me!
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