As the holidays are fast approaching, one thing parents often state their frustration about is behavior regression or increased outbursts during breaks from school. Children thrive when they understand expectations and know boundaries and limitations. The holiday season can be stressful for kids in many hidden ways that often doesn’t affect adults in the same way.
The pressure to dress up, take beautiful family pictures, and be cheerful throughout dinner and long socializing hours can be stressful for children. Adults also tend to be busier during the holiday season and have less patience with children, which can be difficult for young brains to understand and get the necessary support, when needed. Additionally, children tend to see unfamiliar or less familiar adults in their families that comment on their changes (height, grades, body shape) or ask many questions, that can promote more stress in the child. The open-ended, unstructured time during school breaks also allows for children to ‘explore’ and test boundaries when they aren’t sure about expectations, especially since expectations often change during special times of the year.
Setting clear boundaries during the unstructured time allows children to know what is permitted (ie. We will only be doing messy activities with an adult). Sticking as closely as possible to prior schedules is beneficial for consistency (waking time, mealtimes, hygiene routines, bedtime routines). Giving the child a sense of structure can be helpful to prevent them from feel out of control and can prevent some behavior issues. Parents can do this by creating a ‘holiday calendar’ or communicating the tasks/goals each morning that will be upcoming for that day. If possible, families can identify at least one event per day for children to look forward to and provide structure (decorate tree, go see holiday decorations, bake cookies). Parents can also be more cognizant about how they communicate and attempt to be more humorous and pick their battles differently than they might during school time. This can change the tone of the household and alter the potentially stressful tone of the family.