This time of year can be crazy. No matter what you celebrate or don’t celebrate, there are an abundance of invitations to social gatherings and the air is practically vibrating with everyone’s stress and excitement. It’s important in the middle of all the crazy to find some quiet time – to take time for yourself, to reconnect with your family and to help your children regulate.
Young children are not always able to regulate their emotions themselves and they will need you to help them manage and stay focused. Children also don’t have control over the family social calendar, which can add to the sense that their world is moving a little too fast. They can easily become overwhelmed. Often young children are not able to put words to feelings, so you might see their overwhelm come out in their behaviour. Maybe they are tearier than usual, or quicker to anger. They might also have more physical complains like stomachaches and headaches.
Here are some ways to help your child keep their feet on the ground this time of year:
- Help them put names to their emotions – saying something like “I’m excited that we’re going to the party. My tummy feels jumpy. Are you feeling excited as well?” or “You are running around the house a lot, are you excited that we’re going to the party?” helps children identify their emotions. Being able to name our emotions enables us to be in control of them. Brain research supports this. When people are able to name what they are feeling, their amygdala is less activated.
- Plan when you are going to let your child know the schedule for the day. You don’t want to tell them too early about an exceptionally thrilling event – telling a three year old that you are going to a favourite cousin’s party the week before the party will result in a very eager 3 year old asking every day if today is the day of the party. You do want to tell them in enough time so that they can anticipate the event and it doesn’t feel like everything “just happens.”
- Prepare children in advance of what to expect on a busy day. “We are going to the theatre and then a party, so you might feel tired or overwhelmed with all the places and people. Let’s keep checking in with each other to see how we are doing.” A quick, “How are you doing?” with gentle eye contact can help your child feel connected to you and less flooded with stimuli.
- Take care to schedule some down time to reconnect with your child when both of you can recharge. Do a puzzle, play with a favourite toy, read a book, or enjoy a snuggle together.
- Be ready to change plans. If your child is just not able to cope with yet one more activity, maybe it’s time to leave the party early and head home.
- Look after yourself. It can take an immense amount of patience to help a frazzled child regulate. If you are feeling tired and overwhelmed yourself, you will find it difficult to help your child.
- Lastly, be kind to yourself. When you are impatient with your child in the face of their meltdown, remember that you are human and that this is real life. They will get cranky and you will get irritated. Take a breath and offer yourself some kind words (think of what you would say to a friend). You will be better able to weather the next storm if you treat yourself with kindness instead of berating yourself.
There are so many emotions that we might experience at this time of year; joy, love, contentment, wonder, frustration, anxiety, and disappointment, to name a few. We can experience these emotions at any time of course; it is the intensity and pace of December that make them more challenging to cope with now. Learning to stay balanced and regulated in the face of all that is happening is a skill and it is one that we can help our children develop.
Wishing you peace and joy into 2018,