On Day 2 of break, one child had an epic bedtime meltdown. On Day 3, her sister almost lost it when the wood pieces of the birdhouse she was building did not perfectly line up. On Day 4, the youngest got up on the wrong side of the bed and got into a fight with her dad about which Halloween cup she could use during Christmas break. Of course there were lots of good moments too: one sister washed the others’ hair in the bathtub, another pretended to be a waitress at dinnertime and brought everyone ice water, and the other made some beautiful candles as gifts.
Most families are having many of these moments now, because the holiday season brings big disruption to kids’ lives. Even the best kind of disruption can be hard for children: big meals, gatherings of friends, grandparents in town, gifts to be opened days off of school. For many kids, the predictable nature of schooling and knowing what is going to come next (mommy will be home before dinner, daddy will put me to bed, sister will sleep in the same room as me, etc) is very organizing. Transitions for adults are so simple and easy to process- but for kids, there are multiple steps involved (hear the cue, process it, trust it, make a social response, make & follow a motor plan, stay on task without distraction) and if any steps are missed or out of sequence the child won’t be able to transition. So what’s a transition got to do with the unstructured winter break?
Everything. Daily life is a series of transitions, and now we’ve added a layer of uncertainty because the days and people around are different than normal. Add onto that late nights, different caregivers, or new foods and you’ve got a child who has to work much harder than normal to process and respond to the world.
So this winter break, I’ll be slowing everything way down and declining some invitations so my children can have the unstructured playtime that they require in order to run with the higher demands. I’m preparing myself to support them by reducing my work load, taking some extra time off, and making sure I do a yoga class every single day, because in order for me to parent them in a manner that is aligned with my beliefs about parenting and children, I need to take care of myself. And mostly, I’ll be relying heavily on three tools to support my girls through this time, especially since I know I can expect they’ll need a little extra help getting through. Those three tools are PRAISE, PRIME & PACE.
Praise is about presence, supporting children to feel seen, and catching your kid doing something well. Download my Holiday Survival Guide for specifics on how to do praise in ways that will yield cooperative kids.
Priming is about creating organization and predictability and matching your child’s need to make sense of their world by offering simple, relevant information about how things will go down and what their world will look like…. from their perspective. I go into how to do this in my Holiday Survival Guide, which you can download free here.
Pacing is all about your kiddo’s profile and how they move through the world- but for most kids, its about slowing down. Its easy to lean into the frenetic and joyful energy that often blankets parties and gatherings- as long as you acknowledge your child’s system may be in overdrive as they manage it all. Check out the Holiday Survival Guide, which you can download here, for more tips on Pacing.