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Saturday 19 December 2020

The December gremlins

 It is December and we can finally exhale. It has been a rough year on many fronts. We are all looking forward to forgetting about this past year and relaxing from our daily routine. The entire family will likely end up eating more junk, consuming more sugar and having more screen time. We are often out and about, surrounded by more loud noise and our kids regularly experience unpredictable and unfamiliar situations. We find our kids whining, crying, talking back and acting out. It may even seem as if they are doing it especially when friends and family are around. We feel embarrassed and often react by overreacting.

It is not about you

It is important to remember that our children’s behavior is not about us as parents. It is simply their way of communicating their needs and the more extreme our children’s ‘performance’, the more desperate they are. During the holidays our children often find themselves in unfamiliar situations, they suddenly have a different or even unpredictable routine, they are surrounded by random people and eating unfamiliar food. Small children can feel extremely overwhelmed by all of this and will communicate this to us in ways that we, and others, might misunderstand and think is bad behavior.

Let go of the guilt

When this happens, especially while visiting friends or family, we might feel judged or even judge ourselves. It is important that we remember that we are human, our children are human too and we are all still learning. We need to go easy on ourselves and them and if anyone does make a judgmental comment, just smile and say: “they are still learning” and walk away.

Connect, reconnect and repeat

Our children regularly need to feel connected to us. Do not assume that just because you are home, that it counts as connection time, because during the holidays we are often surrounded by other people. Start every morning with some quiet time together. This can be cuddles in bed, breakfast together at home, exploring the garden or reading a story. The length does not necessarily matter, because it is about making that connection before the day’s activities start. Make sure to make time to reconnect during the day, even if just to talk about the day’s activities and experiences. You might be surprised how just a few minutes of reconnecting can make a huge difference in a child’s day and behavior. It is all about them feeling noticed and loved by you.

Help them anticipate your next move

Small children thrive on predictability. Yes, we can relax during the holidays, but we need to weave in some predictable routines for the benefit of our little people. Let your child know in advance what your plans are: ‘”we are going to visit granny’”, “we are going to the shops”, or “we are going to visit cousin Terry” etc. Even when our children are small, just talking about our plans, gives them a sense of what to expect and when our children know what to expect, they already feel more relaxed.

Take it easy

It is incredibly important to schedule in some downtime, especially for our young children. Our adult bodies have sensory filters, but this only develops as we get older. Most adults can have a conversation, while subconsciously cutting out all the background noise, the many colors surrounding us, the sun’s warmth on our skin, the smells of the different foods on the table in front of us and the constant movement of people walking past etc. When we are little and we are exposed to noise, movement, people, different temperatures, lights, environments etc. and our sensory filters don’t get sufficient breaks in between to digest it, we will react by crying, having a melt-down or demonstrate, what many consider as, ‘bad behavior’. If you have a busy morning planned, have a relaxing calm afternoon afterwards at home. If you had a busy day, make sure that the next day is a calm day at home. Downtime for our small children helps them to relax in their familiar environment, with their toys and their people, and it gives their sensory filters a chance to digest the over-stimulation.

This too shall pass

Our children are not small forever. They will grow up and move on. For now, let’s enjoy our kids and make special memories during the holidays. Take photos, laugh often, create your own special December traditions, remember to eat healthy in between and use this time to reconnect with yourself, your partner and your children, before the crazy rat race starts again in the new year.


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