’Tis the season to be….
Jolly? Stressed? Over-committed? Along with the joys, sounds, and delicious flavors of the holidays come extra pressures. If you have children who are easily over-stimulated or distractible, it can be hard to pace them—and yourself. If you have family who doesn’t understand your child’s needs, it can be tiresome, annoying, or worse. If your kids are struggling learners, time with family can remind you and your children how they don’t keep up academically. So how do we reduce stress around the holidays?
What with buying or making gifts and going to holiday services, Nutcracker dance recitals, and other special events, school can drop by the wayside. So make sure your plans are reasonable. In the summer when I wrote my plans for the year, I planned to get less academic work done near the holidays. (I felt no guilt about this: I can’t tell you how many videos my kids watched at an award-winning public school the week before Christmas. Though we can aim higher, we must admit it is a distracting time of year.)
Also, we built part of our homeschool around the holidays. we made gifts as part of our art and cooking lessons. (Everyone loved my son’s peanut brittle—given to those who could safely enjoy it, of course.) We made field trips to elaborate model train exhibits and gingerbread villages.
Writing that holiday letter
When your child is struggling to master the alphabet again, or failing math, it can be hard to get that letter from your cousin whose kids are all acing school. You may even face pressure from some family member to stop homeschooling.
If you write a holiday letter, or even if you just wonder what to say at the holiday dinner, take a tip from my friend Rachel Kitchens-Cole. In “Dust Off Your Silver Linings Playbook,” Rachel gives great advice on how to respond without envy:
When that old coworker’s festive note shows up in your mailbox, it’s OK if her kid made all A’s, was the star ball player, and saved a small country from starvation. Instead of cringing, ask yourself what you’ve noticed about your child over the last year that made you smile. What do you truly value in your child? The gift of having a child with a different timeline for progress, or “success,” is learning to find the best in everything.
Will my relatives act up?
Most parents wonder if their teens and children will behave well. For kids with sensory issues, ADHD, and communication disorders, it can be even more stressful than it is for everyone else. (I remember stiffening up in my aunt’s home when I was a child, desperate not to break one of her dozens of beautiful fragile decorations.) How to help our kids cope:
It’s easy to assume that our kids know what we know. Walk through the day with them. Tell them what to expect and when. What will you say when Aunt Kathy wants to hug you and you can’t stand hugs? How will you respond politely when Grandma offers you that casserole you can’t eat because you’re on a casein-free diet?
The best resource I know to develop these skills is Carol Barnier’s great e- book, Holiday Social Skills for Your Wired Child:
[This 37-page workbook] provides you with a set of activities to do over a few days or weeks leading up to a major holiday event. It will create a child who is better prepared for the event, less stressed about the changes in routine, and better able to enjoy the holiday season…. In addition, there’s a section of items just for parents, to encourage YOU to enjoy this holiday as well.
What will you do if Uncle drinks too much and starts to be rude, abusive, or mean? Your kids should know what are not acceptable ways for others to treat them, not just they ways they shouldn’t treat others.
Don’t only bring this up in a holiday or family context. The best information I’ve seen on how to have these conversations is “The Importance of Teaching Body Safety”, an article on the Parenting Special Needs magazine’s website. The author, Jayneen Sanders, whose pen name is Jay Dale, explains, “Just as we teach road safety with a clear, child-friendly and age-appropriate message, the teaching of body safety uses a similar sensitive and age-appropriate technique.”
Another book I’m eager to order is My Underpants Rule by Kate and Rod Power. These Australian parents, a former police officer and a learning expert, found a clever, non-threatening way to help kids learn basics about body safety.
Call for reinforcements
As described in the Powers’ book, your kids should know when and how to get your attention. You may even want a secret password or signal for your kids to use to let you know they need help. Or you may create a signal for them, such as, “If Mom fiddles with her earring, it means you’re being too loud.”
To be joyful, be thankful
Thank your children for their effort, kindness, helpfulness, and other gifts they give you daily. Encourage your kids to keep a journal each day of things they are thankful for. Talk about them at dinner. Be sure to thank God for them.
And, this is also a great time to teach them how to send thank-you notes. It is not just good manners and proper etiquette, it is an expression of Christian grace.
I welcome your suggestions and comments below.