By Michelle Smith Howard, President and CEO, Kids’ First Years
Alexandria, VA – The holiday season is underway and calendars will be filled with festive events featuring food, fun, and family time. However, the hustle and bustle of this busy time of year can cause parents with young children to feel stressed and anxious instead of calm and peaceful.
To help families in Alexandria embrace the holidays with a maximum of love and a minimum of stress, Kids’ First Years reached out to one of its community partners, the City of Alexandria’s Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS)/Early Childhood Services, for some tips to share with parents and caregivers when time-crunched schedules threaten to derail the holiday spirit.
Below are some excellent tips from LaShonda McDade, MS, an Early Intervention Supervisor for the DCHS’ Parent & Infant Education Program (PIE):
- It’s important for families that have a support system or “village” to lean on them when needed throughout the year, but especially – and sometimes more – during holiday time.
For many families, this is the time of year that extended family members visit. If they are available and offer to step in and lend a hand, Ms. McDade recommends that parents and caregivers be willing to accept the help so that they can get some rest or time to do other things that they don’t usually get the chance to. It is okay to take some time for yourself and not feel guilty.
- She also recommends that all parents and caregivers practice self-care for themselves. This is even more important for those who may not have a “village” that can help as mentioned above. Even a moment of meditation or a few minutes of breathing or stretching exercises every so often can help alleviate or reduce the feelings of stress or anxiety that tend to creep up during the busy holiday season.
- Parents of infants and toddlers with special needs must plan strategies to implement when things don’t go as expected during family outings, holiday travel, or a big family dinner. Think about the child’s current routine and how the holidays will undoubtedly result in changes to the daily schedule. Plan for how the child might respond to events with large groups of people, including visits from family members and traveling to various gatherings. Discuss concerns with the child’s therapists to get additional advice on managing the holiday hoopla.
- Have fun during the holidays! Young children learn from their daily interactions and engagements with others. Engaging them in their family’s seasonal traditions and customs helps shape them as individuals, as well as helps them learn about their own culture, family, and expectations. This engagement also allows young children to bond with their family members and learn about others while creating positive experiences surrounding family security and the importance of family values. If you don’t already have rituals, invite your children to create new family traditions they’ll look forward to each year.
Some examples of age-appropriate jobs that preschoolers can do to help get ready for holiday meals or celebrations include:
- Pouring already measured ingredients into a bowl when baking
- Helping to knead dough for pie crust
- Using plastic cookie cutters to cut dough and place cookies on a cookie sheet before baking
- Helping to stir/whisk cake mix before baking
- Helping to decorate for the holidays (decorations that are lower and not glass or dangerous) for front door/tables/floor/bottom of Christmas tree, etc.
- Making gingerbread houses
- Making homemade ornaments or greeting cards
A final tip is for parents and caregivers to manage their own expectations to deliver the best holiday for their children. Social media, television, and societal expectations make it hard not to compare themselves to others. Making a budget and allowing themselves some peace of mind can be one of the biggest gifts parents can give themselves during the holiday season.
Bonus Tip: Sign Up for Basics Insights
Basics Insights is a free text messaging tool that provides two texts each week tied to one of The Basics principles. Below are examples of texts that align with The Basics Principle #1 – Maximize Love, Minimize Stress. To sign up, visit kidsfirstyears.org/basics/.
- Think about what really matters and what doesn’t. Let your child wear the shirt backward if that will make life easier while you’re involved in a holiday task.
- Your child is always watching you and modeling your behaviors. Make a point of demonstrating actions of kindness or being a good listener while your child is watching.
- Spend time each day thinking about what makes you thankful, especially over the holidays. Studies show that this can increase your happiness, reducing your stress level as a parent.