Getting through Winter – When You Have Young Children
Confessions of a Grandmother
Text by Jeanne Darling
Getting through Winter Holidays – With Very Young Children
When I think of surviving the winter with children, I immediately think about getting through the “holidays.”
I faced this issue when my children were young and learned from many mistakes. And I meet it again every year that I teach young children. Not only in the classroom but when parents approach me frazzled and disappointed in their children’s reactions to the “holidays.”
All the lovely, warm feelings of belonging to a family are enhanced by the fall and winter holidays – or not.
Parents eager to make the holidays meaningful can be disappointed by their young children’s reactions to what adults warmly remember as “fun.” Too much tension and excitement can lead to tantrums, exhaustion and quarrels. It’s impossible to create a stress-free environment for our children, nor should we try.
Indeed, part of growing is learning how to deal with stress. The challenge at holiday time is to make the season happy and memorable while keeping the accompanying hysteria firmly within bounds.
Here are some things you can do to help minimise stress:
Maintain routines as much as possible.
These include eating and sleeping, naps or “quiet time”. Also, ensure that you have plenty of small snacks available. For example, juice, fruit and crackers, rather than sweets. These will see children through long afternoons or evenings of activities.
Do less when you have very young children.
They have sharp radars and will pick up your frazzled mood. They typically react by demanding more attention and thereby increasing your stress. You can build your holidays slowly as your child ages and can absorb a more significant amount and variety of exciting activities.
Describe upcoming and current happenings.
Children often respond better to increased activities if they can anticipate the “when,” what,” and “how” in as concrete terms as possible. Furthermore, it helps to break activities into digestible pieces. For instance, saying, “After your nap, we will go on the tram to buy Daddy a present. And then, we will bring it home to wrap it.”
Don’t push your children to participate in all the preparations.
Even if you think it was great fun as a child (activities like making cookies, decorations etc.). Pay attention to adults’ tendency to produce specific outcomes instead of enjoying the holiday preparations.
Do not expect a young child to sit quietly through events.
Even if they are religious services, concerts or holiday dinners, be ready to sacrifice some of them. Manage your expectations: you can expect to enjoy a few minutes in the beginning and be alert to when you need to bring your restless child elsewhere.
Or equip yourselves with items that can occupy your child quietly. For example, books, paper, crayons, cereal to nibble on, etc. Alternatively, you can prepare for periods of prolonged inactivity.
Respect your child’s reluctance around strangers.
Remember that mythical figures such as Santa Claus or St. Nicolas can be daunting for young children. Do not insist on close contact or sitting on Santa’s lap to get a photo.
Downplay the “You’d better be good, or Santa won’t come” sentiment.
Firstly, threatening young children with “St. Nicolas is watching and knows when you’re good or bad” can cause nightmares. We are better off presenting these figures as benevolent, someone who loves all children.
Secondly, relying on threats and bribes for certain behaviours often backfires and brings disappointing results.
Do not overwhelm young children with presents.
If there is a generous pile, open and explore the gifts slowly. Don’t be surprised if the box and the bow are far more attractive to a toddler than the gift itself.
Try to respond to your child if they want to read a new book or play with an untried toy. Remember that of all the presents offered to your child, the best one is your attention.
Above all, remember to give yourself a break.
It’s impossible to completely escape the stress of the holidays. Nonetheless, you can attempt to reduce commitments or simplify your obligations as much as possible and get enough rest.
If the holidays are getting ahead of you and you can’t keep up, try to arrange some time off – an hour, an afternoon, a day. Use it for holiday shopping, a bubble bath away from the children, or an evening out with your spouse or friends.
Some time to yourself can help you survive the winter holidays.
Jeanne Darling is a retired educator, having taught children for over twenty-five years in Basel. She continues working with children, offering “Story Times” workshops at several schools and libraries. She also wrote the children’s illustrated book “Basel’s Hidden Stories”.