As I write this, we are right in the middle of the holiday season. It is – or it should be – a festive time. A happy time. A time for loved ones and gifts and decadent meals. It’s a time for generosity of spirit, a time for setting aside differences and a time for holding out a hand to our neighbors.
It’s also a time of stress.
And listen. I’m a big girl. I can deal with stress. I don’t always deal with it well, mind you, but I deal with it, even during the holidays.
Kids though, kids are another thing entirely. Yes, they can handle stress. Some deal with way more stress than any kid (or adult!) should ever have to deal with. This much is sadly true. But how much harder it is for these young humans! Kids don’t have the life experience, the tools, or the maturity we have as adults. As parents, we can do our parts to lessen the stress our children feel, but this time of year there seems to be an overwhelming amount of added stress, doled out in generous measure by well-meaning parents.
I BEG YOU, respectfully ask you to take the following to heart when it comes to planning and navigating the holiday season with your kids:
Never tie gifts to behavior, or tell your kids that they won’t get any presents if they’re “naughty.” Don’t tell them that Santa is spying on them, or elves are spying on them, or creepy Santa cams are spying on them. Gifts should be just that: GIFTS. They should be given freely, with no strings and no expectations. Want your kids to grow up knowing how to give and receive gracefully? Show them what that looks like! If you’re giving a child a gift just because they behaved in a way you deemed appropriate, it is no longer a gift. It’s a transaction. Manipulating kids is not okay any time of year, but it’s especially not okay during the holidays, a time that is supposed to be about generosity and love… not about tricking our loved ones into doing what we want.
And while I’m on the subject of behavior…
The holidays are a great time to give your kids extra grace and understanding. Their schedules are all wacky, they’re going to parties and events, they’re likely not getting enough sleep, they’re eating all kinds of rich, sugary foods, and they’re excited one minute and cranky the next. Just like adults, all of the above is going to affect their mood, and thus their behavior. I used to work in retail, so I’m intimately familiar with how out-of-sorts the general public can get this time of year. Kids are no exception. The answer is not extra rules, punishments, or manipulations, but extra patience. Extra love. Extra deep breaths and extra hugs and extra reminders to ourselves that sometimes it’s hard to be a kid, and that it’s especially hard to be a kid during the maelstrom of holiday activity. Extend grace.
Never force your kids to hug, kiss, or otherwise show physical affection to someone else, whether it’s yourself, Uncle Tom, or great grandma. Most of us grew up with the refrain – or command – “Come give Grandma a kiss!”, and it seems innocuous enough at first glance. But if we want our kids to learn about bodily autonomy, it’s important that they know that they always have bodily autonomy, even if it’s Grandma. They get to decide who does and does not touch their bodies, and when, and how, and for what reason. This includes relatives at Christmas time. Your child doesn’t want to give Aunt Sally a hug? That’s okay. (It’s good actually, that they’re showing ownership of their body) Lightly tell Aunt Sally no thanks, and move on.
Finally, be extra respectful of your child with unique needs such as anxiety, sensory issues, or ADD. These make things like holiday gatherings ten times harder, and require mindful consideration. Don’t force or cajole when your child isn’t comfortable with something, and let them do what they need to do to keep their experience as pleasant as possible… whether that means leaving the room for some time alone, sitting quietly with mom, or re-centering with a book or a calming game on your phone. Be understanding of the fact that their experience of the holiday might not look like yours, and that’s okay. The goal isn’t to have a perfect holiday, but to have an enjoyable holiday, and that won’t happen – for anyone – if you’re trying to force something that just isn’t going to work. Having the day go according the “plan” is never, ever worth it if it makes your child miserable in the process. Listening, understanding, and respecting differences goes a long way towards ensuring that the holidays are as pleasant as possible for all involved.
I know it’s easy to get caught up in the holiday rush, to lose sight of what’s important, and to drag your kids kicking and screaming along for the ride. This year, I’m asking you to turn the holidays on their head. Change your focus and make your kids the priority. Treat them not the way you would like to be treated, but the way they would like to be treated (The Golden Rule 2.0)
Just be nice to your kids.