Keep in mind that many adults experience an emotional letdown after the holidays — it's perfectly understandable! Nowadays, with preparations for Christmas starting just after Halloween — the shopping, the decorating, the hustle, the bustle, and the excitement for the impending holiday season are a huge part of our lives for literally months. Although, as adults, we do give a sigh of relief when it's all over, it's no wonder we feel somewhat saddened — especially if we've just maxed our credit cards to the limit!
Imagine if you as a parent are feeling this way what your children must be going through; you can multiply your glumness by ten! For children, it’s the exhilaration of going 100 miles per hour through the season and then hitting the 'back to real life' brick wall. They have gone from living the dream — the anticipation of Santa’s visit, the intoxication of opening lots of gifts on Christmas day, the elation of having new things to play — back to reality. The holiday music no longer fills the airwaves, the Christmas tree has vanished from the living room, the novelty of cool stuff from Santa has worn off, and the doldrums of real life have resumed. These are all grim reminders that the holiday cheer has come to a screeching halt, and nothing new and exciting lies just around the corner. All this brings great sadness for children, yet they don’t necessarily understand why they are sad. Somewhere deep down inside they know they should be happy and grateful; however, they can't help but feel disappointment. They simply don’t have the processing capacity to understand these conflicting sentiments.
This inability to process their emotions is probably manifesting itself in ways that make you ask yourself, “What have I done wrong?” After all, you spent all that money to make your children happy, and they're still not happy! They may even be complaining of boredom — that there’s nothing to do! Even the $100.00 Hatchimal you waited hours in line to purchase — you know the little creature your little creature couldn’t live without — has been tossed aside since the hatching and is of absolutely no interest. Your children are probably into everything, bickering with each other, and gobbling junk food of all varieties. Children are crying at the drop of a hat — and you might be too! This chaotic state of affairs leaves parents frazzled, exhausted, and feeling taken for granted. Believe it or not — this is all normal, reasonable, and understandable!
Aside from the buildup and letdown, think about everything else your family has experienced. While the holidays are exciting, they are also unpredictable and sheer pandemonium. Recognizing this, we must also remember how important consistency is to children and that the only thing consistent about holidays is their inconsistency! Daily routines and schedules fly right out the window. Meals are often catch-as-catch-can with sugary, fatty treats abundant, disguising themselves as nourishment. Bedtimes are turned a blind eye in the interest of festivities. Even when children finally do get to bed, often their excitement manifests itself as restlessness and prohibits a good night's sleep. Vacations from school or child care and out-of-town trips register a jolt to the family routine, comparable to a 9.5 on the Richter scale. And think about the heavy-handed discipline parents usually impose during holiday time. We tend to enforce out-of-the-ordinary expectations, limits, and consequences. Whether imposed as our own or disguised as those of Santa or the Elf on the Shelf, they can cause lots of internal stress for children. And no this doesn't mean you're a bad parent — it is all purely well-intentioned so that the holidays will go more smoothly for all.
And then there are the family dynamics, which can be both uncommon and difficult through the holidays. Uncommon from what I like to call the 'familiar strangers' who we tend to throw into the muddled holiday mix. Children end up sharing their holidays with people they may hardly know. I can remember, as a little girl, being so frightened of my grandfather's brother, every time he came to visit for the holidays. In hindsight, I can admit there was no apparent reason. He was a kind and gentle soul, and inevitably (it never failed) I would warm up to him on the day he was leaving! So Aunt Bertha and Uncle Fred might be the nicest people in the world; however, we mustn't forget that these familiar strangers can cause children to feel uncomfortable.
Broken homes and divorce is a difficult family dynamic that can be even more stressful and confusing for children — especially when parents and relatives are not amicable. In these homes children often get ringside seats for the fight, helplessly watching round after round, as each parent vies for the 'maneuvering holiday time' knockout. Children feel helpless and torn as everybody's feelings get hurt, including grandparents too.
So, if we take all this into consideration, it’s no wonder children have a hard time getting back to 'normal' after living weeks of 'abnormal.' The buildup to the holidays and the celebrations during — the excitement, the over-stimulation, the lack of sleep, the family pressures — all gradually fade a child's ability to cope with minor stress and everyday frustrations, especially once they get back to reality. It is then that their behavior finally crumbles into inappropriate and uncooperative, both quantitative symptoms of prolonged anxiety.
'Hey Sigmund offers some great advice about reducing stress for parents and children leading up to and during the holidays in their article entitled The Silly Season with Kids — I highly recommend filing this article away for next year; it contains some insightful information. But unfortunately, I am afraid the horse is out of the barn this year, and it's too late to thwart any damage! So where do we go from here?
The first thing is to acknowledge the fact that it's okay for adults, as well as children, to experience 'holiday melancholia' — that letdown when everything holiday is over and done. It's not just an abstract concept, it's very real and happens to real families. It seems children are especially affected because their view of reality is a bit more askew than that of adults; add to that parental hyping of the holidays, and children are bound to experience more disappointment come January. Don't get me wrong; there's nothing wrong with a little hyping of the holidays — it makes things all the more magical for children — as long as we 'keep it real' as Hey Sigmund suggests.
However, having said that, while it is okay for children to feel disappointment or letdown, what's not is for that feeling to manifest itself in bad behavior. Depending on the age of the child, some of these behaviors may include: tantrums, regression in potty training or thumb sucking, fatigue, sleep disturbances, whining, trouble separating from parents, unusual withdrawal, aggressive behaviors toward others, rebellion, over- or under-eating, nail biting, etc. Although they may seem horrible behavioral changes, they are relatively simple to adjust. Below is a list of suggestions to start you on your way:
• Re-establish all regular family routines; they are especially important for promoting children’s sense of security and stability.
• Be sure to maintain a healthy diet for your children with consistently scheduled snack and meal times.
• Eat together as a family, in your home, as often as you can — at least once a day.
• Children should have daily indoor and outdoor physical play or exercise.
• During leisure time together use fewer screens and play more games.
• Arrange for adequate sleep with dependable bedtimes.
• Make time to reconnect with children, especially at bedtime; use rituals, like singing a lullaby or reading a bedtime story together.
• Place normal expectations upon them; for instance, their chores being done as usual.
• Create quiet times for getting back to homework activities.
• Plan for one-on-one time with each child — at least weekly.
• Once-a-week family meetings to air differences or make leisure plans can get everyone on track more quickly.
• Re-commit to using positive and gentle parenting techniques.
• Exhibit patience as everyone gradually gets back into the swing of normalcy.
After a routine has been re-established in the home, stress-related behaviors should lessen within a couple of weeks — perhaps a month for more temperamental children. Post-holiday readjustment may take longer for some children than others. You certainly know your child best! If it goes beyond what you feel is reasonable for your child, consider seeking help from your pediatrician to make sure that there is nothing more serious underlying.
Please comment — we'd love to hear how you are managing the holiday aftermath!
And oh, by the way — Happy 2017!
Share with us below your methods for making the holidays less stressful and coping with the aftermath.
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