More Joy, Less Stress During the Holidays for Preschool Parents

Part Two: Common Questions
In Part One, I discussed the importance of maintaining routines with your preschooler during the holidays. Parents found this general information helpful, but always returned with questions regarding specific situations. The questions listed below are the ones that arose most often every year.

QUESTION: There is so much to do and so many places to go during the holidays. I don’t want to disappoint family or friends, and I want my child to have as many experiences as possible. How do I narrow down which invitations to accept?

JUDY’S ANSWER: When looking at possible activities, including social events, religious celebrations, entertaining, shopping or cooking, prioritize the activities that are most important and meaningful to you and your family. What do you want your child to learn from and remember about the activity? What will maximize enjoyment and family closeness for everyone? Be kind to yourself, and do not force yourself or your family to attend events simply because you are invited to do so.

Carefully assess what you feel like you “should do” at this time of year, and balance that with what is best for your child and your whole family. Consider your family’s needs and personalities. What is the optimal level of activity in one day or one week? This answer will be different for every family and every child, so think about things such as the time of day of an event, the distance from home, the size of the group, how much it interferes with the daily routine, and the behavioral expectations for your child.

QUESTION: Traveling with the kids last year was really hard. We were all so cranky that it was hard to relax. What can we do to make it easier?
JUDY’S ANSWER: If you are traveling for the holidays, first prepare your child for where you are going, how you will get there, how long it will take to get there, how many nights you will be away, and what items you will be able to take. A calendar with pictures drawn or pasted on can be helpful, as are photos and maps for older preschoolers. Reassure your child that you will all be returning home at the end of the trip. Be prepared for irregular sleep patterns, so bring some favorite comfort items and try as much as possible to stick to regular bedtime and morning rituals.

Whether traveling a longer distance or simply visiting another family for the afternoon, be prepared with snacks, books, toys, small blocks and/or a container of art supplies. Consider keeping a small suitcase or book bag with these items near the door or in the car.

QUESTION: This time of year is so busy that I don’t feel I can devote as much time to my child as I usually do. How can I balance getting everything done with spending time with my child so that I don’t feel guilty?
JUDY’S ANSWER: Children love being involved in preparing for celebrations and certainly benefit by being given responsibilities. Let your child help set the table, put out some decorations, or help you with some cooking or cleaning. Think about what your child can do with you that would be fun (or at least lower stress) for both of you. Decide what you can let your child handle on his own, and then let him do it; only ask your child to do tasks that you can let go without them being perfect – it is no fun for anyone if you feel like you have to re-do something later.

Finally, go easy on yourself. It is much better to spend a bit less time together for a few weeks if that time is enjoyable than to try to squeeze in everything and end up tired and miserable. This is also a good time to practice phrases such as, “I know it’s hard to wait, but I need to finish this and then you will have my complete attention,” or “I appreciate how patient you are being because I am very busy right now.” If you can, consider hiring a babysitter or recruiting a friend to take your child for a play-date.

QUESTION: Last year we had such trouble with sharing toys when we had people over. How can I teach my child to be better at sharing?
JUDY’S ANSWER: Children are often asked to share all of their toys when other children visit, which can be difficult, especially if they are currently attached to a particular toy or do not know the other children well. Most preschoolers do better when asked to take turns rather than to share. Taking turns is a more concrete phrase, which is easier for preschoolers to understand and can prevent the “but they are mine” response that is commonly heard at this age.

In advance, sit down and discuss the fact that you expect your child to take turns when other children come over. Talk about who will be coming over and answer any questions your child has about these children. Ask if there are certain toys or items your child chooses not to share (you may want to limit the number of items to two or three) and put those items away, to be taken out only after company has departed. Also ask your child which toys she is looking forward to showing the other children. Talk together about other ways you can welcome the children to your home, such as setting up an arts and crafts table.

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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