I sit here writing this in a state of exhaustion. If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ve been here. Up since 4am with a child who can’t see the merit of sleeping when tired, but can only scream and cry, I’m just about ready to do the same. Most of us go through a stage when this occurs on a daily (or nightly basis) but even when that less-than-delightful slice of life is over, it can come back with a vengeance during the holidays.
But they’re supposed to be fun, aren’t they? Relatives come to visit, or we go to visit them; everyone has an extra day off work or school or daycare; there’s great food to be eaten; there’s excitement in the air because everything is different! So what’s the problem?
First, many kids can’t handle the excitement. The pressure to be good for Santa, or in this weekend’s case, the Easter bunny can be overwhelming. They don’t know what to do with their energy when all the adults are telling them to please be quiet, and at the same time ignoring them because they haven’t seen Aunt Agnes and Uncle Ralph in ages. Between that and the preparations or the traveling, the kids will start to be annoying because it’s their only way to get the attention they want. The result: anxiety all around.
Second, schedules go down the tubes. When everyone is going about their daily routine, whether it be the weekday one or the weekend one, kids know what to expect and when to expect it. The holidays present an exception to just about everything. For a small child, even the fact that he or she isn’t being served spaghetti as usual on a Saturday evening can be a cause for a little extra glee.
How to combat this depends on the child. With my two who weren’t afraid of Santa and the Easter bunny – or even the tooth fairy – schedule was essential. It was all different, yes, but by letting them know what to expect ahead of time, for instance when people would arrive, what we’re having to eat, when we’re leaving and getting home etc., they could at least anticipate how they needed to behave and when. This way I was able to spend time with them when I wasn’t busy, and they knew that then was the time to have my undivided attention. Allowing them to help out with the preparations was always a good way to spend time with them and still get something done, as long as I allowed for the extra time it would take.
Allowing them to have a say in the decision making as well, was a great way to get through the day. It gave them a sense of control, even though the choices I asked them to make were unessential to what I had planned. For instance: we’re leaving at noon – do you want to wear this coat or that one? This is something I’ve carried through to every day life, and I find it amazingly helpful in getting anywhere. Or in the case of preparation, I would ask them where they wanted the decorations placed. Thanking them for their good decisions also aided in making them feel as though they were being well behaved, taking some of the pressure off and with it the anxiety of being good enough to receive their gifts. This is something I personally disagree with, by the way; I won’t deny them the treasures of the holidays. Rather, I will take away the extras they receive during non-holiday events, such as a favourite activity.
So you get through your day and it’s the night before. Excitement is at an all time high at bedtime because a special visitor is coming while they sleep, to leave gifts. You put them to bed praying that they won’t get up and catch you doing the deed. It’s even worse if the anxiety includes fear of the “beloved” character who is shoved down their throats sometimes month in advance of this one highly stressful night. What happens then? Right. I’ve been awake since 4am.
And so we go back to Alex’s fear of the dreaded bunny etc., and that’s the one I haven’t figured out what to do with. Alex’s anxiety isn’t, I’m sure, unique to only him. It keeps him awake at night, which is something even we adults can relate to.
I’d love to hear any suggestions you have in the comments. For the rest, I hope you can take something from this: I hope it helps.