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Avoiding Holiday Meltdowns

Parenting expert Alyson Schafer gives tips on navigating family politics over the holidays to keep the peace between your kids and the family.

When we gather for the holidays it adds stress to our parenting as everyone seems to want to help out on the parenting decisions.  While comments and thoughts often stem from love and the desire to help you, as a parent, it can feel a bit overwhelming and confrontational.

Here’s a few of Alyson’s ideas on handling family politics:

1. Remember Roles and Responsibilities: while it is a sweet gesture to have your parents and friends chime in about certain decisions, try to remind yourself that you are the parent and you decide on how to best manage your child.  Trust yourself, take charge, be firm with your kids and have a plan on how you’ll deal with your relatives.

Here are a few of my strategies to manage your family over the holidays:

  • Think in advance of what issues typically crop up and prepare your reply in advance.  
  • Some good generic replies: "Thanks so much for making that suggestion, but we might have to agree to disagree on this one," "thanks for that input (mom), I'll definitely take it into consideration but I think for now XYZ needs to happen," "The best part about being a grandparent is that you don't have to worry about all that parenting stuff anymore.  Now it’s on me (laugh)"
  • Practice your replies out loud at home before going to the gathering (even rehearse with your spouse if you know arguments are bound to come up)
  • Use the broken record approach of not waivering in your reply:  " please support our decision" "please support our decision"

2. So Which Rules ‘Rule’ over the holidays?

Take a moment to ask yourself if the issue is a house rule or a child-rearing rule?  If Grandma and grandpa have a house rule that shoes come off at the door and no jumping on the couch then the parents must enforce those rules.  However, if your child is having a tantrum about the rules or breaks the rules, it’s up to Mom and dad to step in and discipline their child.  Of course, children usually listen to someone other than their parents so in this instance it might be helpful for grandma to chime in.  Just don’t wait for others to manage your child's behaviour. 

3. Which Rules Matter?

Safety rule: These rules shouldn’t change over the holidays no matter how tempting.  Kids need to know that certain values are important no matter what.  For example, if you need a helmet to play hockey and you didn't bring one your child might have to sit out this time around.

Basic Functioning rules: these should alter with caution over the holidays. I often remind myself, "Kids who feel good - do good." So eating / sleeping / exercise all need to be monitored to help get best behaviours from kids.  Don't bend these too far if you anticipate it will lead to bad behaviour in the future.

Group Rules:  ("my way" - versus "their way") When we gather for the holidays it’s helpful to remind ourselves that it’s one of those times were a bunch of rules will inevitably come together.  Try to ease the tension but considering the entire group of people (whether friends or family). Remember, the goal is to have fun and make good memories.  So when deciding on whether to enforce a family rule ask yourself:   Will this exception to the rule make for a better time for all (late night skating, sledding or a family board game)? Or, will the fall-out (loss of sleep for example or everyone being forced to watch a kids movie) cancel the good times?   The more your child can fit into the way the entire group is operating the better over all.  

Example: some kids can stay up late and sleep in and thus will really enjoy if you break the rules and let them stay up.  Other children can’t handle the change in schedule as well (especially little ones) and the alteration could mean a tantrum or meltdown later on.  In this case it’s probably not worth it to keep the child up as it will result in more bad experiences than the one good one of staying up late. 

Example: eating a meal together is one of the most bonding experiences for families. Try to have everyone eat together over the holidays, but if your little one is not able to wait till the main meal is served prepare healthy food to nibble on to hold them over.  They should still come to the table for the social aspect and have some food similar to what others are eating - even if they eat mostly other stuff at others times.  It’s "fitting in" that makes for a feeling of connectedness.

4. Handling Excessive Gift Giving

The holidays are a natural time for people to get excited and shower others in love and adoration.  It’s also the time that families and friends indulge your kids – often with sweets and gifts.  Remember, these items were sought out by the giver with love.  Try to avoid confiscating gifts once they have been given.   You're child might think they’re being punished if items are taken away.

Instead promote the idea of family members giving gifts of experiences together (taking the child to the symphony or taking them tree top trekking).  Often these have longevity that toys don’t (memories last forever). 

Or, you can ask your child if they would like to donate one of the toys they receive or take their old toys to good will? Use excessive gift-receiving as a teachable lesson in appreciation / gratitude and helping others.

Overall, remember it’s the holidays and the goal is to share/give love and have fun with everyone.  Kids will watch how interactions transpire and you always want to set a good example.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

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