Parenting Tip: Setting Yourself and Your Family Up for Success During the Holidays
Setting Yourself and Your Family Up for Success During the Holidays (or any other situation or event that causes stress, anxiety or tension)
Every year around the holidays I start hearing from clients about the stress that they have around the holiday season. For some people, this can be a time of year that they look forward to. More family and friend gatherings. Meals that take all day to make, simmering on the stove or baking in the oven.
For others, those very things can be the root cause of a lot of tension. Gatherings are tough because there are a lot of people with excited energy which can ramp our children up or cause meltdowns. Meals with strong smells and different tastes brings up anxiety in children who have sensory challenges.
It is the same time of year and very different experiences. If you relate to the latter scene, you are not alone AND I want to share what I have found to be helpful in setting myself and my family up for experiencing more peace, ease and joy during this time of year.
I start out by thinking about what causes me tension when I think about the whole season or different parts of it - gatherings, dinners, outings, school events, etc. This helps me to get it out into the open so that I can do something about it. Sitting in my head worrying about what might happen isn’t going to do anything to influence our experience but acknowledging it allow change to happen.
From there I think about what I am wanting, what my intention is, again it could be for the whole season or individual events. This helps me to get clarity around what I actually want to say yes to, what I can do to better the situation for us all and what I want to pass on.
When my son was younger, large gatherings were stimulus overload for him and as a result, he would wander around people’s houses looking in each room to see if they had ceiling fans. I used to dread them because I knew that I’d be following him around rather then chatting with a friend. Realizing that this was not how I wanted to experience things like this, I gave myself permission to either hire a sitter for him, even if others were bringing their children, or I would just not go.
Meals like Thanksgiving were also tough because there were typically more people seated around the table and they were eating foods with strong smells. My intention was to enjoy the food and conversation which meant that I made food that my son liked and did not require him to sit at the table with us. This reduced meltdowns significantly!
**This might bring up some thoughts around expectations like, “We HAVE to go to that party because my boss is throwing it.” or “It’s Thanksgiving and my child should eat what everyone else is eating.” and that’s okay because we can use the next step to question whether or not we HAVE to do anything. This creates a shift from doing something out of obligation or choosing to do it. (Choice always feels better!!)
Now that we’ve gotten clear around areas of tension and our intention, we can move on to what sort of attention is needed for each of these things. This is the fun part because we can tap into curiosity around all of the different possibilities for anything. Does x HAVE to look a certain way? The answer is almost always NO!
What would work best for you knowing what you know about yourself? Your child? Your family? If you can create this, your experience can be much less stressful.
Things I like to consider are whether or not it is something I think my child would enjoy and even if so, do I know that there are times of the day that aren’t ideal for them or an amount of time that they can do before tipping into overwhelm or meltdown mode.
I like to think about the sensory aspect of the event and bring food/drink that I know they will eat in order to keep their blood sugar regulated.
If it is a fancier event where the child is expected to wear clothes that are different from what they usually wear, see if they can wear the dress clothes for a short amount of time and then provide a change of clothes for them so they aren’t in stiff, scratchy clothes for a long time.
I also like to have an exit strategy and review it with my husband if we are going together. This can be huge especially when I notice that my child is reaching their tipping point. If it is taking place at a restaurant, we plan for how to pay for our portion of the bill. If it is at someone’s house, one of us lets the host know we are leaving. Perhaps you and your partner drive separately in case your child has a meltdown and you need to leave.
If not at your home, finding a space, even if it’s in your car, for you and your child to go if they need some time to reset. You might find that watching a show on their iPad for 20 minutes helps them to feel more regulated before going back to the gathering.
Spending a little bit of time going through these things can help you to feel less tension around the experiences. You will feel more prepared and also more empowered to do what is best for you and your family, even if it is different from what everyone else is doing. If there is one thing that my son has taught me, it is this and I cannot worry about what works for other people, I can only use what I know that works for us, learn from what doesn’t and do my best to learn from that so I can play with what I can do different the next time. This brings me tremendous amounts of peace, ease and joy and it is my hope that it supports you in having the same.