Holiday sanity: Set expectations, provide structure to keep young children grounded this holiday season


Holiday sanity: Set expectations, provide structure to keep young children grounded this holiday season

By SARAH KEENE

There is just something in the air this time of year that warms my heart.

Perhaps it’s smelling the cookies baking, hanging of lights to brighten the cold night, or the sharing of holiday cheer reminiscent of decades ago.

As wily veterans of the holiday craze, we may think we can prepare ourselves for the season, but we never fully appreciate the sensory challenges that come along with this time of year, and that is even more true for our children (the clinic this time of year is great proof of this).

They must be prepped, encouraged and reminded of what to expect!

Reality check: as much as we all love the family time and multiple rounds of Secret Santa, we all go into “sensory overload” at some point … hence the forthcoming holiday hangover in January.

December is truly a magical time of year, but with school out, normal routines forgotten and sleep at a premium, here are a few simple reminders to help your family be at their best.

1. Verbal prep – Offer kids a warning for people, smells, sights and sounds. In order to help our kiddos prepare for what the holidays may be like this year, simply talk about it!
Discuss with your kids whom they will be see and where they will travel, along with what they will do, eat, drink and smell. It seems so obvious, but even though we all get an A+ for prepping our kids for Santa, how many times have we caught ourselves rushing little Johnny into party number three of the
weekend with completely new surroundings without prepping?

Helping our children prepare in advance will lead to smooth transitions and less meltdowns.

2. Sleep – Prioritize sleep as much as possible (including keeping your bedtime routine).

We all need sleep. Enough said? Should be … but if not, remember the 6 a.m. Monday morning feeling?

Well, our kids are no different. As fun as it is to stay up late with cousins watching movies and playing house, it all comes at a cost… usually paid in full in the following days. We should not expect our kids to be jolly when sleep is missed. Keeping your normal bedtime routine will help with the transition to bed.

If you read books and then sing a song brushing teeth, keep it that way regardless of where you are (home or away). Kids thrive on routine! Our bodies run on a cycle and routines help trigger processes.

3. Structure days – Kids can only handle so many surprises.

In addition to cycles and routines, kids thrive with structure.

Parents: provide your kiddos with some predictable activities during their time off. No, this does not mean they need to be “home schooled” on vacation, it simply means that if you provide children with realistic parameters in the form of time or tasks, you will avoid tantrums, fights, and headaches.

4. Sensory overload – it’s bound to happen… but can
Sensory overload is a battle any time of year, but the holidays are a special treat … think crowded malls, noisy streets, Vegas-like- lights, heavy clothes and extra friends/family time.

Let’s set realistic expectations for our kids.

Don’t force little Susie to give a big hug to Aunt Edna when she only sees her once a year.

And let’s make sure our kids give a gift (or at least an act of service) prior to receiving.

Going for a quiet walk outside or spending some quiet time in a cozy corner reading a book is good advice for parents and children alike… as is limiting presents received by Junior to a somewhat reasonable amount.

The holidays are when memories are made and traditions followed. We all want our children to take part in the festivities, but hopefully these few reminders help everyone actually enjoy the madness and treat the coming weeks as a marathon rather than a sprint.

We all have more fun when we are at least partially sane, anyway.

Sarah and Kyle Keene operate Project Play and Franklin Speech & Learning Center, which serve Middle Tennessee through a network of more than 50 therapists with office locations in Nashville, Franklin and Nolensville. They provide Pediatric Occupational and Speech Therapy, with concentrations also including Physical and Feeding Therapy.

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