The stress that many people feel during the holiday season may come as an unexpected challenge for families with young children. During this time the schedules and routines of the rest of the year change substantially. If these changes are enough to cause even the most prepared and patient of adults to feel stress and pressure then it could be expected that small children will inevitably feel some anxiety. Many parents do their best to try to adapt their parenting to the demands of the holiday season in hopes that their child will slowly understand the meaning of everything. However, the most effective strategy is to instead, adapt the way they celebrate the holidays to suit the needs of everyone in the family including the youngest children.
There is no underestimating the importance of consistency and continuity in the development of a child. Children gain a sense of security, comfort and trust from consistency. When a child grows up in an environment where this is respected, they can freely learn and express themselves without becoming preoccupied by uncertain schedules or unexpected events. They are given the patience to focus on the activity at hand and learn from it. When different family dynamics change during the holiday season it becomes even more important to stick to a child's routine. Because major changes can overwhelm children it is important to make them as seamless as possible. For example, though a child may not be eating in the same place they are used to from their schedule or time at home, they can still feel comfortable during meals by eating the same foods at the same time with someone who accompanies them in the same patient manner they are used to. Similarly, when it is time to change a diaper, despite being in a different place, the parents should keep the same familiar process of giving their child the privacy and attention they will be accustomed to. When there is no other option but to disrupt the rhythm in the life of a child, it is important to address to the child in a clear simple manner about what may have changed. This will greatly reduce anxiety a child may feel because they will trust that they are in the care of someone in control.
Adjusting the holidays season for the needs of a child does not mean letting the season pass without the child noticing any change, it means making sure that the child can participate in an age appropriate manner. It is very important for many families to share with their children the meaning and traditions of different holidays. Some parents expect that children will quickly pick up the meaning of different activities during the holidays such as reunions, gift giving and travel. However, if this is not presented to a child in a way they can understand they will be bewildered by who the old woman is pinching their cheeks or why everyone is staring at them when they are opening a box. A child will have a better sense of what different traditions mean when they are involved in activities leading up to the holidays such as choosing the wrapping paper or making a card for a certain relative. Also, letting them, without a crash course in crafts, make their own gift or try their hand at wrapping gives children a better perspective on what it means when they give and receive something from someone. They will begin to learn gift giving as an expression of love beyond the value of the gift its self. Similarly in their own life, they can learn about a holiday by being involved in decorations be it making them or choosing where to put them.
However, there are some less pleasant holiday traditions, such as shopping in crowded stores, that sometimes a parent may be unable to avoid making their child a part of. There are still ways for parents to make the experience more pleasant when there is no alternative but to have a child with them in a chaotic environment such as a mall. One such way is to take just a moment to separate the child from a more crowded area and speak with them for a moment, answer questions or just share a little bit about what they are shopping for. This is both a great opportunity to take a tiny breather, but more importantly it could be a chance to demonstrate active memory strategies. When a parent shares briefly with their child what they are there to buy, where they can find it and what they will use it for they are demonstrating problem solving skills.
Though much of the stress of the holidays comes from wanting to be prepared for when the big day finally comes, sometimes the most enjoyable part is everything that happens just before. Including children in the preparations is a way to start the holidays early by creating lovely memories while at the same time helping them in their personal development.