More Joy, Less Stress During the Holidays for Preschool Parents

Part One: Maintaining Routines
Every year at the preschool, just as predictable as the days getting shorter, we heard the same concerns from parents about handling the holiday season. We tried to reduce the anxiety that so many parents felt about the disruption the upcoming holidays would have on a family with young children by offering the following advice around this time of year.

First, keep in mind that young children thrive within a predictable environment. They need consistency and routine, and they want information about their daily schedule. During the holiday season, as activity, stress and unpredictability may increase in your own life, it may not be possible to maintain exactly the same structure as you do during the rest of the year. However, implementing some of the following suggestions will reduce your child’s stress level, allowing for a happier holiday season for all. 

    • Maintain your child’s daily routine as much as possible, including rules and behavioral expectations. Do not relax the rules or consequences for the holidays, as it will be incredibly hard to return to them after the holidays are over.
    • It is important your child sleeps and eats on schedule as regularly as possible, even if it means passing on or cutting short some holiday events. A hungry or tired child is more prone to tantrums, which can ruin celebrations for everyone.
    • Communicate any changes in schedule, such as guests coming to your home or shopping that must be done, especially if it will impact that time you usually spend with your child. Some children experience great anxiety over such changes.
    • Buy or make a calendar with pictures as reminders of holiday events, which can reassure children and excite them instead of worrying them. With four-five-year-olds, discuss the changes a few days ahead of time as you put them on the calendar. Your child may be able to draw the reminders herself. With three-year-olds, the discussion may take place the night before with a reminder in the morning of the day’s schedule. If guests will be arriving, show your child where they will stay and talk about what the impact on your child will be. Consider having your child make something to welcome the guest.
    • When possible, plan events at times of day you know work best for your child to cope with new experiences or more stimulation than usual. Large group situations overwhelm or over-stimulate some children. Carefully choose the situations or invitations you accept. Bear in mind that your very sociable three-year-old may have changed into a more cautious four-year-old, which is quite developmentally appropriate. Respect the age and accept the stage your child is in when thinking about your expectations for greeting, hugging and even speaking to people she either does not know or very rarely sees.
    • Check in with your child more often than usual during this time period. Encourage him to express how he is feeling, even if the feelings are unpleasant. Listen carefully and validate those feelings, such as saying, “I understand why you are so tired after a long day of shopping with me.”
    • Just as you schedule your other tasks and social events, schedule time each day just to be with your child. Make some warm play-dough together that she can play with while you are busy, read a story and snuggle together on the couch, take a walk and talk about how the weather is changing, dance, listen to music (either quiet and calming or fast and energy-releasing), or do some yoga stretching and breathing. Do something that you will enjoy so that this is a healthy break for both parent and child. Just ten minutes of concentrated time is a great start.
    • When returning from late evening events, it may take time for your child to unwind and prepare for bedtime. Though it also may be a time you have much to do, investing the time in maintaining the nightly routine will certainly pay off with a child who is then prepared for a good night’s sleep.
  • Your child may react to a whirlwind of activities in a variety of ways, such as a change of eating habits. This change may prompt more reports of stomachaches and/or emotional reactions. A quiet moment usually calms both.

Remember that your child takes her emotional cues from you. Children sense and react to your stress level. Though it may be difficult, try to take care of yourself and maintain your own routine as well. And recognize that, at this time of year in particular, spending time with family may be more important than finishing your to do list.

Happy calmer holidays!

My Favorite Play-Dough Recipe
3 cups of flour
1 ½ cups of salt
2 tablespoons of cream of tartar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups of water
A few drops of food coloring – or divide into two batches and use two colors

1. Mix all ingredients well in a large pot.
2. Heat over low heat and stir continuously until mixture is thickened.
3. Dump mixture onto a heatproof surface, let it cool, the center will be hot.
4. Break into small balls and enjoy the feeling of kneading the play-dough.
5. Store in an air-tight container.

Judy Medoff, M.A., recently retired after 25 years of serving as the founding director of The Price Family Preschool in San Diego, CA. During this time, she taught weekly parent participation classes and developed parenting workshops on many topics. She currently works as an independent consultant for families and schools. Judy lives with her husband in San Diego and visits her two grown children in the Bay Area quite often. She would love to hear your stories and questions:

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