The holiday season is here, let’s first make a plan for the holidays.
As a Canadian, the passing of Remembrance Day has always signaled the start of the holidays season. I know for Americans, your Thanksgiving is the kick-off of the holidsay season.
It’s holiday season so no matter where you reside, chances are you’re in for some kind of chaos over the next two months.
Time to talk about the Goddess of Consistency happy.
I say often:
If you are inconsistent, you are screwed.
There is no saving you and it can be very difficult to be consistent when there are things happening that happen literally never, other than during the holidays.
I don’t think there’s any easy with the holidays. They’re just all different kinds of hard. Whether you stay home or travel across the country or road trip or whatever, there’s no easy, they’re all just different kinds of hard.
The holidays are by their nature inconsistent. It’s once a year.
Our schedules are shot to hell during the holidays and it starts next week with going and doing far more shopping than we usually do, by putting up Christmas trees, baking, visiting, all the shenanigans that go on at school and daycare during Christmas…like it’s just barely controlled chaos.
The Goddess of Consistency is already on edge. Your kids are already expending far more energy than they are on a normal day-to-day basis: so that’s important to recognize.
This isn’t business as usual.
You cannot expect your child to operate as though it is. This is basically a month-long circus, and we have to treat it as such.
We can make it less hard by not intentionally irritating the Goddess of Consistency.
There’s no need to throw in behavioral stress on top of all the other kinds of stress the holidays bring and maintaining consistency, no matter whether you’re traveling or at home, is the key to keeping the status quo when it comes to behavior expectations during the holidays and by maintaining consistency, you’re reducing that stress.
3 main tips for maintaining consistency through the holidays, whether you’re traveling or not:
First: Make Everything Mind Numbingly Predictable
I cannot tell you how many times parents have said to me “She knows that after lights out it’s time to put her book away and go to sleep but at Grandma’s, she throws a massive fit!”
BECAUSE THIS IS A NEW SITUATION.
A major variable, the environment, has changed!
Children are excellent scientists. They recognize when there are new variables thrown into the mix, and then they have to test whether those variables effect that they know to be true.
If I throw a fit at bedtime at Grandma’s house will Grandma or Grandpa come to override Mom and Dad? Gotta test it!
Can I eat tonnes of candy before dinner at Auntie’s house when there’s Christmas music playing? GOTTA TEST IT!
We’ve been ripping paper all day- does that mean I can rip books too now?! GOTTA TEST IT!
We, as adults, have already tested all these things. We know what variables change circumstances and accepted behavior expectations, and which ones don’t.
Our kids are not us.
They need to test them themselves, children do not learn from being told something, they learn by doing.
By making things mind-numbingly predictable, we help them reduce the variables that need testing.
A First/Then board is going to be your best friend when it comes to unpredictable family gatherings because you at least generally know what you’re currently doing, and what is coming next.
First we’re opening presents, then we’re going to eat.
First we’re going to go snowshoeing, then we’re going to have hot chocolate.
I know it seems ridiculous, especially if you have 4/5/6 year olds…but y’all- you can’t fly by the seat of your pants and then expect that your child will just…adjust.
That would be lovely, but it’s not how children are built.
They don’t have the energy to do that- set-shifting is extremely draining.
Unpredictability means danger to them.
It means they’re using a lot more gas in their tank. This means that their brain will perceive their exhaustion as a threat and that’s when the screaming and crying and irrational and emotional behavior starts. Simplify it by making it as predictable as possible.
Second: Don’t Change Foundational Routines
It doesn’t matter where my children are bedtime happens the exact same bloody way.
They eat dinner, immediately after dinner they have a bath or a shower, they read a book with an adult that is not me, I sing them songs, they go to sleep.
It doesn’t matter if we’re at home, at Nana’s, at our cottage, visiting family friends, in a hotel, or on the moon, bedtime always happens the same way. I can fudge the timing of it a bit but generally no more than an hour.
Don’t mess with that.
Don’t throw in unpredictable crap like “oh now we’ve read our book, time to go downstairs and say goodnight to everyone!”
Say goodnight before you start the routine. Routines are familiar and predictable, if you start messing with them you’re setting yourselves up for failure. Same with naps.
I know, it sucks that you can only use half your day but if you have a sensitive napper, don’t go messing with their naps!
Sorry Auntie, if you want to get together at 1pm, we’ll have to do it at our house because JR naps in the afternoon or “Sure, we’d love to come for the afternoon JR needs a nap at 1pm though, is there a quiet room we could set up his playpen in?”
If your child is used to sleeping in the dark, with white noise, and his sleep sack, and his suce, and his lovey, don’t mess with that! Bring it all!
I highyl recommend the Snooze Shade or the Slumberpod for those with kiddos in playpens because it’s a lot easier to blackout the playpen than blackout the room and practice using it leading up to the holidays.
If your child has never slept in a Slumberpod and then you set it up for the first time at Grandpa’s house, there’s no way in hell they’re going to sleep in there.
Practice on days where you can control bedtime and move it up if they don’t nap.
Get them used to it before you need it and the stakes are high at a family gathering.
Keep the conditions the same as possible.
If you use a visual timer to let them know when dinner is or how long they have to play before you leave somewhere..
KEEP THAT GOING DURING THE HOLIDAYS!
It always floors me when parents say “Oh well, we usually use a timer to warn him about leaving somewhere but we didn’t because it was the holidays.”
No! You should be doubling down on the timer…
BECAUSE IT’S THE HOLIDAYS!!
Three: Prepare Them For As Much As Possible
Social stories are fantastic for this.
We have a social story I call “We’re going to visit someone old.” As the story basically goes we’re going to visit someone old. Their house is full of breakable things. It is not set up for kids. Old people get very frustrated and offended when you touch their things.
I will not touch their things without asking first.
If I need to move my body in a big way, I will ask Mom or Dad to take me outside.
I will use walking feet in their home.
I will say please and thank you. I will talk loudly so that they can hear me.
If I don’t want to hug them or shake their hand, I can say “no thank you.”
I can ask Mom and Dad where the bathroom is if I need to pee or poop.
Visiting old people makes them happy, but I have to have a calm body while we do it. We read it 3-4 times before going to visit anyone over the age of about 70.
My grandpa’s 103, my husband’s grandparents are in their late 80s. It’s not something we do super frequently…so I need to remind them of the expectations before we go.
By writing it into a simple story, it helps them remember it, it’s easy for them to review on their own, and it’s easy to set the exact same expectations every time we go.
We have ones for how to behave in a church, how to behave when opening presents, how to find out where the bathroom is in an unfamiliar place, what to do with food we don’t want to eat when visiting someone, how to let Mom and Dad know you’re getting tired, how to behave on an airplane…etc. etc. etc.
I have probably 30 of them that pertain to expectations that they don’t have to meet very often.
It helps because it’s consistency!
It’s a lot easier to memorize when there’s pictures and the words are in the same order every time.
Social narratives are something that my ParentAbility members get every month. Every month I add in 4 new visuals, and often those are social stories, that they can just print off.
A lot of my new ParentAbility clients are really resistant to these stories, and many of them put off using them for a long time. They think they’re kind of stupid at first until they try one and angels start singing because it worked so well.
If you can do those 3 things: make everything mind-numbingly predictable, don’t go messing with existing routines, and prepare them for new expectations and you’re going to have the best holiday season you can possibly have.
I don’t guarantee you won’t have a meltdown or two, as I said, it’s barely controlled chaos and it’s stressful, but you will drastically reduce the meltdowns in both severity and frequency.
You can come join us in the Parenting Posse to continue the conversation and if you’re curious about ParentAbility and exactly how all this stuff we talk about on the MudRoom fits together and whether it would be a good fit for your family.