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As a Canadian, the passing of Remembrance Day has always signaled the start of the holiday season. I know for Americans – your Thanksgiving is the busiest travel time of the year for y’all, and for Canadians, it’s Christmas so no matter where you reside- CHANCES ARE you’re in for some kind of chaos over the next two months. So I thought- before we’re in the thick of it- we ought to chat about how to keep the Goddess of Consistency happy. Because if there’s ONE THING you ought to know after following me for ANY length of time- it’s this: 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 the holidays.
So hands up in the comments- do you travel for American Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hanukkah or any other celebration? Or do you stick closer to home? If you stick closer to home- do you still go visiting in and around your area, or do you literally stay home?
Personally, I’ve done both. Growing up we always spent Christmas at my Gammy’s house, and then as I got older we started to stay home. I obviously came home for Christmas when I was in school, but then my husband and I were posted to Alberta…so it became a MUCH bigger thing.
We couldn’t just hop in the car and drive home anymore- now we had a 4-hour flight home. Which, when it comes to bringing presents there and back…becomes a HUGE PAIN. Then we had Logan and one month after I gave birth I was on a plane home. Luckily by time he turned two we’d been posted closer to home so now we’re back to either driving home, or more frequently we have Christmas here at our house. So I’ve done it ALL and I know just how uniquely difficult each of those can be. I don’t think there’s any easy with the holidays. They’re just all different kinds of hard.
We can make it less hard if we aren’t angering 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. Maintaining consistency, no matter whether you’re traveling or at home. Consistency is the key to keeping the status quo when it comes to behavior during the holidays because this isn’t just stressful for us. It’s stressful for them too.
By maintaining consistency, you’re reducing that stress.
I have 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!”
THIS IS A NEW SITUATION.
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 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 chance circumstances and accepted behavior expectations, and which ones don’t. Our kids are not us. They need to test them themselves, so by making things mind-numbingly predictable- we help them reduce the variables that need testing.
Use visuals, a First/Then board is going to be your BEST FRIEND when it comes to unpredictable family gatherings. 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. It would be lovely, but it’s not how children are built. Unpredictability means danger to them. It means they’re using a LOT more gas in their tank.
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, 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. OH naps! I know, it sucks that you can only use half your day, but if you have a sensitive napper, don’t go fucking with their naps!
Sorry Auntie, if you want to get together at 1 pm. We’ll have to do it at our house because junior naps in the afternoon. Or “Sure, we’d love to come for the afternoon, Junior 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 HIGHLY recommend the Snooze Shade for those with kiddos in playpens because it’s a lot easier to blackout the playpen than blackout the room. 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 as much as possible.
Social stories are FANTASTIC for this. We have a social story I call “We’re going to visit someone old.” 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 revise 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. They can just print off.
Those are my top 3 tips for weathering the holidays without pissing off the Goddess of Consistency.
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.
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. The holidays are stressful, but you will DRASTICALLY reduce the meltdowns in both severity and frequency.
If you need support in that, you can always join us in the Parenting Posse. The Parenting Posse is my free peer support Facebook group.
If you want access to my visuals library along with all the other goodies my members get, come join us in ParentAbility.
Alright! That’s it! Do you think you can pull off those 3 things this holiday season?
Does it give you some ideas of things you need to get in place NOW so that it’s not so crazy when the time comes?
Thoughts? I’d love to hear them. Drop me a comment.