We’re not that different from Pavlov’s dogs, who famously drooled at the sound of a bell that had been associated with food. Triggers in our environment cue us to engage in certain behaviours. This is why you catch a glimpse of tinsel or hear holiday music piped in over the PR system, and you’re suddenly engaging in holidays-only behaviour: drinking eggnog at 10am, racking up credit card bills, participating in sing-alongs, and eating sugar in any available form – cookies, chocolate, candy canes, you name it.
Indulging in these decadent behaviours is part of the fun of the holiday season. You’re on vacation, and this is a special time of year. It’s fun to take a break from the daily routine, and it’s part of what makes the holiday a special time for you and your family. But even good changes in our routine can put stress on our systems. This is certainly true for our kids as well. If you are feeling some stress during the holidays, your children will be too. Here are some ways to make sure your family enjoys the holiday season, without needing a second holiday to recover from it!
Get Some Sleep!
Staying up late is one of the special indulgences of the holiday season. After all, you don’t have to rush to get everyone to school and/or work in the morning! Pushing back bedtimes makes this time of year especially fun for your kids. But being sleep-deprived is stressful. If your kids are able to sleep in, then there’s no problem. But if your kids have that neurological hard-wiring that causes them to jolt awake by 6:30 am no matter what time they’ve gone down for the night (does it sound like I’m speaking from experience here?) then bedtime has to be non-negotiable. Hey, it will give you a little more time to enjoy that eggnog with the other adults! Also, if your kids are young enough to still nap, then you can play around with naptimes and bedtimes, but not both. So if you skip the nap, stick to an early bedtime. If you know you’ll be up late, don’t skip the nap.
Go Easy on the Sugar
There is some debate on the actual link between sugar and behavioural problems, but most researchers agree with what parents know intuitively – too much sugar is not a good thing when it comes to children’s behaviour, and too much sugar puts stress on our system. Indulging in sweet treats is part of the fun of the holiday season, but just make sure that your kids are indulging in moderation: one cookie, not the entire cookie jar. Also, make sure they are eating healthy meals in between these sugary indulgences – this will help curb the desire to over-indulge, and will help their systems handle and process the excess sugar-load.
Avoid Sensory Overload
Between the lights, the music, the gatherings, the crowds and more, the holidays really provide an onslaught of sensory stimulation which, for some sensitive kids, can be overwhelming and stressful. Pick up on your kids’ cues as to when they’re feeling overwhelmed. They may not be able to tell you with words, but you’ll pick up on it from their behaviour: crying, aggression, rudeness, and general short-temperedness may be a sign that your child has hit sensory overload. Help her recharge her batteries with some quiet time. You don’t have to attend every event you get invited to, and you’ll enjoy the holidays much better if you say no sometimes and take some quiet time as a family to nap, read, or just look at the falling snow.
Ease Back into Routine
If you’ve been staying up late and lounging around in your pajamas until noon, the morning routine for that first day back at school and work may not go as smoothly as you’d like. Ease back into the routine of January by slowly working your way back towards your normal schedule. Make bedtimes a little earlier each night so that by the time that first day of the winter semester rolls around, you’re all ready for the early wake-up call, and primed to get back into your regular daily routine!
Happy holidays everyone! Enjoy every moment of this special season.