This time of year we all have family events we need to attend and as foster or adoptive parents, our kids may or may not be as excited as we are. Sometimes our kids are more excited and this excitement can turn into disaster. Sometimes our kids are less than thrilled and this reluctance and anxiety can turn into battles. So this year, let's all be realistic and plan ahead in order to make this year memorable... in the good way!
1. The absolute first step is to manage your own expectations so you don’t become emotional and over react out of embarrassment. Generally the worst times with our kiddos get that bad because we are upset. Privately ahead of time think through your goals and expectations as well as your child's strengths and struggles.
2. Be practical and aware of what will work and what won't. For example, if your goal is to give your child a fun holiday experience, then lower your expectations for how great it might be for you and just be in the moment with them. Focus your attention on them. Be mindful and present and observant of their non verbal cues. You will then be able to notice when they are having fun and when they are getting overstimulated and need a break or when they are done and need to head home.
On the other hand, if your goal for a particular gathering is to visit with other adults, and you know your child needs one to one supervision you may need to find a babysitter to stay home with your child or accompany you to your event. If you cannot find someone able to support you, then you will need to evaluate if you can attend the gathering this year. That might sound harsh, but if you go into the gathering with expectations that cannot be met you are likely to overreact to your child and make a bad situation worse.
3. Once you have come up with your plan talk through family events ahead of time so each child knows what is expected and what to expect. It's not fair to expect your child to go with the flow. Give them age appropriate information ahead of time. Don't overwhelm them with a lot of details at once, but as each event approaches have a short chat going over a few key details such as: who will be there, what you will be doing, how long is the drive to get there, what is expected of your child, how long you are staying, etc. You know your child and what details will help them be more successful. Another great topic to discuss with your child ahead of time is to create a plan ahead of time regarding what to do if they start to feel uncomfortable. Perhaps if your child is older you can come up with a code word that will allow them to let you know they need your private attention to discuss something.
4. Now you might want to think through some items that will help them better manage their anxiety and energy during these activities. If you haven't already, this may be the time to invest in a tablet for your child. That way they can have their own entertainment and allow you some time to relax at your holiday event. This list includes the best rated tablets for kids starting around $50. You can figure out a creative reason they earn the tablet, and I would suggest setting out some clear rules regarding its use. As we all know, tablets can be a life saver and a meltdown maker so you want to have some clear boundaries set up ahead of time. But in light of all that we are asking of our kids these next few weeks, giving them an escape may be a helpful solution for everyone. For older kids and teens check in with them and ask them what would help make these events less stressful and see if you can come up with some solutions that will make technology your friend, not your foe.
5. One other item to consider might be noise cancelling headphones for kids and teens. These season may include a couple of days where you throw your normal "screen time" rules out the window and if you are going to force them to hang out with a bunch of loud cousins at grandma's house for a few hours they are able to escape with a game or video for a bit. It is important to ensure the headphones will be safe for your child so don't just pass them your beat up pair of ear buds. Take a moment and check out this article in order to find a good pair that will actually work to cancel the outside noises, allow them to relax with their activity, and not damage their hearing in the process.
6. This may seem odd and not work for everyone, but try to figure out a way to have fun when the drama hits. I am an enneagram 7 so I'm always looking to create a fun challenge. Roy and I have often made a game out of holidays in order to find joy in the pain. In the days leading up to an event we will create our predictions. For example, what time with Trish start to cry? We will keep track of our predictions and earn points for accuracy. Then the winner will receive a bottle of wine from the other. So, accurately predicting all the bad things that happened on the holiday becomes something you are cheering! What is something you could do to help you laugh through it all? I'd love to see a Bingo Chart! PS… We are Christmas freaks who love our children and go a bit overboard on the holidays. And, come on now, please don’t think we are bitter alcoholic pessimistic Scrooges. It’s just a fun game that makes us laugh and helps us get through the ugly moments
7. If you celebrate a big Christmas on one day, consider changing it up a bit and giving gifts slowly over a few days in order to decrease the intense excitement of so many gifts all at once. For a lot of our kiddos that is all just too much! Many of them already have sleep issues and now we are wanting them to sleep through the night and wake up ready to have their pictures taken as they joyful open up a room full of brightly wrapped toys? That often doesn't work even for the most well behaved children! However, if you visit the extended family on one day and open their gifts with them, and then open some gifts slowly the days leading up to the 25th and spread it out a little it may be less over stimulating. Why not then have a special family breakfast and games day on Christmas? This may be easier for them to manage their mood and behaviours and create the family memories you are looking for.
8. Think through eating schedules during holiday events. Hungry kids are just like hungry adults, Hangry! Now, if you have read my blogs before you know I am a big fan of not battling over food with new placements.
If a child has just moved into your home, this is not the time to start micro managing and changing their diet. You will need a few months to bond with them before you start changing up their food. Food is comfort and they need a whole lot of comfort right now. Let them eat their fav foods and celebrate their traditions as they want unless you have medical reasons not to. Also, I'm not saying don't let your kids have cookies and candy canes. I love them and if you told me I had to go through a whole Christmas season without any holiday treats you would see a real meltdown. I'm talking here about timing and moderation.
If your child has lived with you awhile and you are able to make some nutrition choices you may want to be strategic with what they are eating before going over to Aunt Debbie's house full of big, loud people. Be kind and gentle, don't ruin the holidays for them or create unnecessary battles, but be strategic. Set a reminder on your phone if you need to ensure that they are getting some wholesome snacks throughout the day when mealtimes are a bit more scattered. Fill up their bellies with healthy choices before heading over to a party so they don't raid the sweets table. And try your best to decrease the amount of the following foods from your child's diet, without making them feel bad, as these foods can increase the symptoms of anxiety:
Sugar (Watch out for pop, chocolate bars, all the fun holiday sweets)
Food dyes like red #40 and yellow #5
High fructose corn syrup
Caffeinated hot chocolate (Nesquick is a good substitute as they are 99% caffeine free)
Vitamin waters (check the labels as many of them contain caffeine)
Protein & snack bars (check the labels as many of them contain caffeine)
I put together these ideas from an article by Tiffani Lawton. For more information on these ingredients check out her post.
Instead, try to offer the following snacks frequently & strategically:
Oranges and other foods rich in Vitamin C (think blueberries, mangos, cranberries, cuties, strawberries, leafy greens, broccoli, and red and green peppers)
Almonds. Spread some almond butter on apple slices or put it in a smoothie or make your own trail mix with blueberries.
Turkey and other foods with Tryptophan (think milk, bananas, oats, soy, nuts, peanut butter and sesame seeds). So pack some turkey sandwiches or roll ups to eat on the road or make sure you serve a nice big turkey for your holiday dinner!
Whole grains (oatmeal; brown rice; and whole-grain breads, pastas and breakfast cereals). If you are like me my kids won't eat brown bread and it's not a battle I will fight this year. But if your child will eat hot cereals perhaps check out your fav recipe site for some fun holiday oatmeal ideas to get you started on the day of your big event.
I found these ideas from a great article by Sandi Schwartz. She also recommends making some fun smoothies for your kids including bananas, almond milk & peanut butter or a dinner idea would be turkey meatballs and whole grain pasta.
9. On the same topic of nutrition, I would also remind you to monitor your child's sleeping. Tired children are just like tired adults, Irritable! Often when we are traveling or attending family events our sleep schedules get messed up. Plan ahead of time how you will manage your child's sleep routines and schedules. At our home we have a couple of kids who struggle with sleep and we use oil diffusers and music and lotions and baths all set up at specific times. If you want your children to manage their emotions and moods you must figure out a way to get them the rest they need to manage their stress. If you are staying with relatives talk with them ahead of time of your child's sleep routines and needs and create a plan to keep it as close to home as possible. If you are staying local this may mean requesting to change the times of the family gatherings or leaving early in order to make sure you child can keep their routine. And if you are unable to keep them on schedule, then you will need to be really gracious and patient as their irritability rises and give them lots of TLC to help them calm down when they are acting out of their exhaustion.
10. Consider volunteering and giving back as a family activity in order to help your children balance their sense of wanting to get, with a desire to give. There has been much research done to support that serving others improves mental health. Not only does it make us feel good about ourselves, but it also decreases our victim mentality. If you are looking for an activity that may help improve moods and behaviours around your home, consider finding a family friendly opportunity to serve others in your community.
11. Consider offering some incentives for your child using their skills and ability to appropriately manage their behaviours. Dr Kazdin uses the phrase catch them being good. Discuss ahead of time what kinds of behaviours you will want to see from your child and then when you see it happening praise the heck out of it. Give them lots of verbal and physical attention (compliments and gentle touches) to reinforce that they are making good choices. This might be that they are frustrated and handle it well. Remember, we all get frustrated so that in itself is not a problem, the issue is does your child choose to get help and express themselves or do they throw items or hit others or yell. So when you see your child (of any age) doing well, make sure this is rewarded in order to increase the behavior. Perhaps this is a time they can earn special priveledges or items. (Again, this could work for any age. If your teen doesn't want to go to Grandma's house have a conversation about how this is important to you and offer to get them their fav drive through on the way home or pay for them to go to the movies afterwards). Remember we are working on a long term plan, shaping behaviour and incentives can be key to help you on this journey. Would you go to work if they didn't give you a paycheck?
12. Have you ever role played with your child? This is key to shaping behaviour. When you and your child are both in good moods take some time to play together and role play your expectations for the family event. Play some loud crowd noises on your phone and act out what it is like to be at the mall taking Santa pictures, or let your child pretend they are loud Uncle Jack that loves to joke around and you take on the role of your child trying to be left alone. Role play both good and poor choices of how to handle these situations. Make it fun and laugh together. Then reward them for role playing out solutions that will work to make these situations go well. By practicing when things are calm they will have a better understanding of your expectations when its getting stressful.
I am a Christmas freak and I love all of the holiday fun. But I know that if I only focus on the next great decoration to buy or cookie to bake or picture to take, I will soon find my life not living up to my expectations. Each day find little moments to breathe and relax.
Make yourself a cup of tea or glass of wine.
Mindfully enjoy a holiday treat.
Make memories with your family and friends.
Don't miss the magic of this time of year because you are so stressed about catching and correcting your kids misbehaviours. But slow down, connect and become closer to one another over these next few weeks together.
If you are interested in continuing this conversation and would like some personalized help creating your holiday plans let's schedule a time to chat at email@example.com
For more information on parent coaching sessions click here.