Gentle Parenting Through the Holidays
Updated: Nov 23, 2022
The holidays can be beautiful, stressful, and everything in between. This is especially true for children, who are still learning to understand the world, their families, and their roles in each. Here are a few ideas for moving through the holidays with mindful connection.
Respect Their Boundaries
By now, we all know the importance of consent. As a society, though, we sometimes forget to extend those practices to children. Adults, especially family, often feel entitled to hugs, kisses, and generally being in a child's space with (or without) their permission. If your child is old enough you can ask them how they feel about hugs and close contact with family. Practice what to say in those situations, so they feel prepared. Young children are masters at advocating for themselves - even if adults are less-masterful at listening. With younger children, watch for their signs of discomfort. If they are saying no, pulling away, or putting a hand up step in and gently advocate for them. Model firmly, and gently holding boundaries. This may be necessary with older children as well, if they do not feel comfortable using their voice in this way, or their words are not being honored. These lessons are also present when we are reminding children to respect others' bodies and space. I again recommend having these conversations before an event, so you can easily call back those memories in the moment. Using 'we' statements such as 'We do not use our hands that way," can remind children that these are universal rules that apply to them, and for them.
2. Keep them Safe
Our ancestors decided to put the big family holidays smack in the middle of virus season. This is less than ideal. come prepared with ways to be affectionate (if a child wishes to be) that are less likely to transmit illness. With very small children, wearing them in a carrier is often a great deterrent to people putting their faces too close. If people do wish to give them kisses you can ask them to kiss the baby's adorable toes, instead of their face. A hug is typically safer than a kiss on the face. Remind children to wash hands often, not share drinks or food, and give people space. Truth be told, when I'm visiting my grandparents, there is no way I'm not giving them a hug. My approach is to hug them when my jacket is on, so I can remove it quickly after, and I always make sure to turn my face away. This is even more for their protection than for my own. As rough as it may be to miss time together, if anyone is feeling under-the-weather, consider rescheduling for everyone's protection.
Speaking to your child before an event, and letting them know what to expect, can alleviate a lot of anxiety now, and misunderstandings later. When children know what to expect they can begin preparing themselves, and asking important questions before being in a new situation. These conversations also give you a chance to discuss expectations, and answer questions. Don't forget to ask children what they are excited for, and if there is anything they are worried about, or not looking forward to. Let your children know if you are experiencing stress or anxiety, in a child-appropriate way. Children are so much more insightful than we often give them credit for. They often pick up on the emotions of the people around them, even if they do not have the context to understand what is causing it. Explaining uncomfortable emotions in a measured way can help them to navigate their own big feelings. This is also an excellent opportunity to model asking for help, or a break.
"I am really tired after all of that cooking. I don't feel like I can run around right now. Could we make cocoa and read a story, instead?" " I feel a bit overwhelmed with all of these people here. Could I have a hug?"
4. Plan Together
Allowing children to participate in planning for an event is empowering. It helps them to think through their own wishes and concerns, and come up with plans to help themselves. It also allows them to help you avoid sticky situations on big days. Ask them what is important to them on the holidays. Is there a special food they look forward to all year? Do they want to sit next to Grandma at dinner? Is there a toy that they absolutely cannot be without? If all of the adults are talking, is there a book, movie, or play set that they can enjoy on their own? Don't forget to hold space for their worries or dislikes, as well. Hating long rides in the car doesn't mean the whole family stays home. It can, however, mean planning for a fun stop halfway, or downloading some interesting audiobooks.