Disclosure: This post is sponsored by BIG.
Leave that Elf on the Shelf: Strategies for Surviving the Holidays
The winter holidays are upon us! ‘Tis the season of light, music, merriment, family gatherings, and a full year’s quota of peppermint. Along with the joy, this time of year also brings many family and social obligations, disruptions to normal routines, and extra stimulation. It can be challenging for parents and children alike to navigate all the additional stimuli and expectations.
Many families play host to a certain shelf-perched spy from the North Pole as a behavior management consultant. However, the experts at Behavioral Intervention Group (BIG) suggest some additional strategies to facilitate peace and help everyone in the house to have joyful days and silent nights.
Create Some Structure
It’s a pretty dramatic swing from the predictability of school days to highly variable, open-ended vacation time. Many children will benefit from a certain amount of schedule and structure that mirrors elements of their normal routine. You don’t have to overdo it—after all, you’re on vacation, too—but providing some set activities to anchor the day may be reassuring and stabilizing for your child.
Keep the Troops in the Loop
You can go a long way to mitigate the effects of a fluctuating schedule by making a plan and discussing it with your children in advance. Rather than springing excursions and visitors upon them with little notice, talk about what’s going to happen and what they might expect. This discussion might even include run-throughs for how to behave and what to do in various unfamiliar situations. Regardless, once it’s “Go Time,” be prepared to give them plenty of prompts, because there’s a lot of information, stimulation and social cues for them to process.
Provide Comfort through the Familiar
With all of the novelty and disruption in the air, incorporating some familiar elements (favorite games/pastimes, comfortable clothes, cherished toys or comfort objects) can increase your children’s sense of security and help to keep them calm. Duck the food fight by incorporating a few of their preferred things to eat. That way, they’ll have something they’ll truly enjoy at the holiday dining table. String cheese and fruit cups may seem like a strange holiday feast to you, but for an overwhelmed child, it can be soothing and just may help to keep the peace.
Give Positive Reinforcement
It can be easy for a tired parent to fall into the role of traffic cop and disciplinarian, but be sure to positively reinforce your children whenever you catch them doing things well. You can negotiate agreements about specific rewards for bringing their best game to a particular occasion. But it’s probably best to rely on something other than sugary snacks for a prize, given that sweets abound during the holidays and children’s systems will already be full of excited energy.
Stay Alert and Flexible
As always—but especially in a new environment with unfamiliar people and special demands—keep attuned to your child’s state. Early detection and intervention can save the day by circumventing a meltdown. But understand that even the best-laid plans can go up in smoke in the face of unexpected stress and stimuli. Stay flexible, try to keep your sense of humor, and know your escape route.
In the spirit of the holidays, offer your children—and yourself—plenty of grace.
Try to be extra-generous with your attention and patience. Give them more prompts than usual and shower them with positivity for behaving well. But, besides all that, give them some special affection for—well, just because. A few unearned moments of your care and cuddles can go a long way to help them feel safe, valued, and loved, and that’s the best gift of all. Happy holidays!
Based in Baton Rouge, BIG provides learning opportunities and skills development to improve the quality of life for children with autism and other developmental disorders. For more information about BIG’s programs and services, call (225) 757-8002 or visit big-br.com.