Don’t Let the Grinch Steal Your Christmas: How to Manage Holiday Expectations with Kids
As the holidays approach, most parents have high hopes for family gatherings filled with love, joy, hopefully a little peace, and, most of all, children who are the perfect picture of happiness and contentment. Parents would all love to believe that their children will be on their best behavior and that they will be nothing short of gracious when Aunt Suzy gives them the same pair of flannel pajamas for the third year in a row or accommodating when Grandma makes her Jell-O surprise (which is never really a surprise) at Thanksgiving and forces them to try just one bite with the certainty that they will love it this year! Inevitably, many of these dreams of perfection will be dashed with a small, or sometimes rather large, dose of reality. When that happens, it can be hard to reconcile the holiday experiences that were hoped for with the meltdown inducingsituations that parents find themselves in. So how can parents alleviate some of the feelings of stress and frustration that often accompany holidays with young children?
First of all, have realistic expectations. If your child is a toddler in the throes of the terrible two’s, expecting him or her to sit quietly through an entire multi-course dinner without squirming or begging to get down, may be a little much. Likewise, you can’t expect a six year old to control their facial expressions when they open a gift that is a far cry from anything resembling Target’s 2016: Hot Toys of the Year. You can, however, educate yourself on developmentally appropriate behaviors for children at certain ages and discuss your behavioral expectations with your children up front.
According to Tamika M. Simmons, Ph.D. who is a professor at Delta State University, young children between the ages of two and six, “are excited to learn and eager to please adults.” Dr. Simmons offers some wonderful suggestions for parents preparing for the upcoming holiday season. One such suggestion is to give your little ones a special job. “Whether it is assigning them to be the official “food taster” during meal prep, the “paper collector” for post, gift opening clean up, or the “official hugger” for visiting family members and friends, the activities should be meaningful, helpful, but simple and creative.” She also stresses the importance of maintaining a schedule that works for you and your little ones during the holidays when, “it is easy to deviate from the daily schedule of play, nap, and learning time.” This way, “Parents can avoid frustrations and pitfalls (for adults and kids alike) by planning activities and a routine ahead of the holiday break and expecting to have hands on involvement with their child each day.” When it comes to older children between the ages of seven and twelve, Dr. Simmons suggests that parents, “consider incorporating concrete opportunities for learning and engaging the tenets your family deem important.” She offers examples such as donating toys or working in a soup kitchen, and asserts that, “such activities help children develop a more thoughtful capacity for gift giving, a better appreciation for gifts received, and (hopefully) fewer embarrassing remarks about the socks Grandma bought AGAIN this year.”
With these helpful suggestions, your holiday experiences this year might just be more in line with what you are hoping for. However, if your child does have a meltdown or two, remember that sometimes the busyness of the holidays can be a little hard for them to handle, but that is totally normal. Hang in there dear parents and focus on the joy!
Emmie Daugherty is a wife, mother, and kindergarten teacher in Greenwood. She has a passion for children and loves spending time with her family.