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Holiday Parenting

For many, the arrival of the holiday season comes with eagerness and anticipation.

But as much as holiday traditions and time with family and friends energize us, they can also lead to new challenges for children.

“For children, the holidays can lead to unpredictability of schedule, fatigue, hype, and anticipation, sprinkled with atypical eating patterns characterized by sugar highs and crashes,” said Elizabeth DeMartino Newton, assistant director of UT’s Early Learning Center. “All of these factors are likely to result in an increase in tantrums, whining, aggression, noncompliance, and extremes of energy and emotion.”

Want to avoid the chaos? Newton suggests some parenting tips to help ensure everyone stays sane during one of the busiest times of the year.

Remember routines

One of the biggest temptations can be the urge to make the most of the holiday magic by fitting in every activity imaginable.

“Eventually all the extras lead to a big ball of overextension and exhaustion for both parents and children,” Newton said.

It may take a lot of planning and forethought, but consistency, predictability, and focusing on daily routines and experiences provide crucial positive results for everyone.

Preserve normalcy

During the holidays, established family routines and patterns are naturally thrown off, which makes it even more important to consider creative ways to respond to children’s needs while accomplishing the new tasks added to your list.

“Make deliberate decisions about which invitations to accept,” Newton said. “Go to the events and activities that are truly your top priorities rather than trying to fit them all in.”

Above all, give yourself permission to advocate for your children when you feel trapped by endless family obligations, Newton said. Providing down time to play and rest is key.

Intentionality and mindfulness

Parents have the power of choice, and our choices reflect our priorities.

“Children need to know you are there to support them as they learn to regulate their emotions and behaviors,” Newton said. “It helps to take a moment to sit in the car in the parking lot before going into the store to chat about what will happen and what will not happen.”

What does this look like?

Take time to explain to children: “Today we are looking for a gift for Aunt Caroline and some ingredients to make cookies. We’re not going to shop for ourselves today.”

And when faced with the disappointment of tired, “hangry” (hungry plus angry) young children, show them you’re aware of the situation: “I know you’ve had a long day. Me too. We’re going into one store, and then we’re going home right after that. When we get home, we’ll have dinner and we will have some time to play.”

Pave the way for smooth traditions and transitions

Whenever possible, include the children in a healthy way in your holiday activities; enlist them and make it a fun adventure.

“Resist dragging children along for everything under the sun and letting it irritate you when they inevitably slow you down or impede your progress. Strategically build in opportunities to work as a team,” Newton said.

Invite the children to help you pick out gifts for family. Choose the item you bring to a potluck party based on your child’s ability to help. Give your toddler stickers to mark off items on the list as you shop.

“If you include the children in appropriate ways, you not only prevent the challenging behaviors and stress,” Newton said, “but you also provide the opportunity to have meaningful experiences that embody the values you hold through the holiday season.”

CONTACT:

Brian Canever (865-974-0937, bcanever@utk.edu)

Dani Rose Thibus (865-974-0843, drose@utk.edu)