Another year has come and gone and the holidays are here again! This time of year affects everyone differently and children might respond in all different ways to the change in season, end of school, and extra family events and traditions. When schedules are packed and kids are asked to be on their ‘best behavior,’ it is especially important to remember your child's age and developmental stage. During different ages, children need different kinds of support from parents and caregivers. Keeping in mind that every child is different, we have rounded up some strategies that can help you meet the demands of your child’s age and stage to set them up for success this holiday season.
Children 0-2 years old:
The needs of babies and toddlers are constantly changing to keep up with their growing minds and bodies. They are exploring their world and your support and routines help them feel safe and secure. When planning holiday activities that could disrupt your litte one’s routine, keep these tips in mind:
- Sleep | Little ones need their sleep, and they typically prefer it on a schedule. This can make errand running and holiday festivities rather tricky. While sleep disruptions may be unavoidable during the holiday season, try to plan ahead. Making arrangements, like a sitter during naptime, can help keep the schedule on track. Remembering the sleep routine can also make a big difference even when the schedule is off. Sometimes a sleepy infant or toddler will give you a pass on the bedtime routine but if they is having trouble falling asleep, taking the extra time to give them a quick warm sponge bath and reading a short story can help them wind-down.
- Routine | Most infants and toddlers (except for the very youngest) have daily routines for eating, playing, and relaxing. Infants and toddlers get a lot of their security and confidence from knowing what comes next, which is why routines are so important. While it may not be possible to stick to their exact routine during the holidays, making an effort to keep the main things in place, like mealtimes and wind-down time before naps –can help the rest of the day go a lot smoother.
- Relationships | During the first two years of life, it is common for little ones to feel nervous or become upset when meeting new people. This can make holiday family gatherings with relatives and friends challenging. Remember to be patient and remind family and friends that it might take some time for baby to warm up. Bringing a few of your little one’s favorite things is often helpful when playing with new people. Making an extended family and friend photo album of people you might see and reviewing it with your little one can be a fun holiday activity with an added benefit. It may not completely relieve their anxiety, but it can help them to recognize faces and know what to expect.
Children 3-5 years old:
Preschool-aged children are coming into their own. They are finding their independence and voicing their thoughts and opinions. Allow your child to explore their independence and curiosity this season with these tips:
- Eating | The holidays come with lots of special foods that we might only eat this time of year. For preschoolers, this may be their first time experiencing some of these foods and trying new things can be scary. Combat picky eating with communication. Talk to your preschooler about all the different foods they are likely to see, is there anything they are looking forward to trying? If you have time, prepare a few common holiday foods for your child and let them help. You can also talk to your child about a dish they like and your plans to bring it to an upcoming gathering.
- Curiosity | Preschoolers want to learn about all the amazing things in the world around them. This is especially true during the holidays. Take some time to talk to your child about what they are seeing inside and outside. You might build extra time into family decorating to allow your child to help and ask questions. Remember that their sense of curiosity sometimes wins over their knowledge of the rules, so put fragile or potentially dangerous decorations out of reach and leave soft or more durable items on lower surfaces.
- Independence | Preschoolers are exercising their independence and finding their sense of power and control. Support your child’s sense of independence by giving choices. Even the smallest choices over color, order, or hairstyle can be a big deal to your little one. Remember to only give options that to lead to an outcome you can live with. For example, if the goal is to get a dress on for the school play, then two options would be, “should we put your dress on first or your tights on first.”
School-aged children generally have budding vocabularies and can be eager to share what they are thinking. Support your child’s thoughts and opinions all season long using these three E’s:
- Emotions | Your school-aged child is going to be aware not only of their feelings during the holiday season but also yours. Remember to provide plenty of opportunities for your child to talk about how they are feeling and to share your own feelings at an appropriate level. Remember to discuss how you handle any tough feelings. For example, if you are a little sad because you are missing a loved one, you might say that you will take a walk or that you will call a friend.
- Expectations | Unlike preschoolers who are focused on their own independence, school-aged children are learning how to live in a community. They are realizing that people are different and that every family has different rules and beliefs. The holidays are a great time to explore different holiday traditions. Ask questions about what your child might have noticed about friends' holiday traditions or at others’ homes. Show interest in their thoughts and opinions.
- Engagement | Engaging your school-aged child in all that the holidays have to offer will benefit both of you. School-aged children are able to start taking on new responsibilities and helping out with tasks like wrapping gifts or baking cookies. In addition to helping them feel included, joint activities also provide an excellent opportunity for more communication and building supportive family bonds.
Teenagers are forming their individual identity, they may be feeling self-conscious and more observant of the world around them. They are forming strong bonds with their friends and developing more intimate relationships. Support their growth as an individual with these strategies:
- Friends | Friends are really important to teenagers. Even though your holiday traditions may center around family, it is important to allow your teen time to stay engaged with their friends. Allowing your teen to invite friends over to partake in family festivities or setting aside an extra half hour for your teen to use their phone or social media, shows that you understand his/her friends are important. This also highlights the importance of friendships and support outside of the family.
- Communication | Teens can have the same mixed emotions as adults during the holidays. It is important to provide teens with plenty of opportunities to communicate their thoughts and feelings. There is no need to force your teen to talk; they will open up when they are ready, as long as they are given chances to do so. A lot of teens are more comfortable talking while engaged in other activities. So strike up a conversation while shooting hoops, cooking dinner, or putting up holiday decorations.
- Responsibility | Most teens are very responsible and capable of helping out around the house. As helpful and wonderful as they may be, they are still kids and need time for fun. After a morning of babysitting their brothers and sisters, reward them with a few hours to catch a movie or do something enjoyable with friends.
Here are a few additional helpful tips to keep in mind during the holidays, regardless of the age of your kids:
- Traditions are important to the whole family. Even if you are the only parent at home this holiday season, try to continue some of the most important family traditions and maybe create some new ones.
- Include a deployed parent in the holidays by mailing cards, pictures, or even cookies.
- Spread the cheer! When the holidays feel overwhelming, it can be helpful to remind yourself about others who may not have all the blessings you do. So arrange to take your family to serve food at the local food bank or shelter, or bake a plate of cookies for a neighbor. Doing something nice for others just may bring a smile to your face too.