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How parents can manage children’s behavior during holidays

by on December 07, 2016 4:46 PM

The holiday season is a time of a joy, love and hope. It is a time for families and friends to come together. And, for many parents and children, it is a rare time in their busy daily life schedule to relax and enjoy being with one another.

The holiday season also can be a trigger for the onset stress in families. Finances, family circumstances and children’s behavioral management can prove trying for families over the course of the holiday season.

Although finances and family circumstances may be outside of the scope of parental control, there are ways to prevent children’s behavioral problems and support them during potentially challenging times.

Evaluate your child’s needs and potential triggers.

Does your child need a few hours of down time every day? If so, staying at holiday parties all day may be problematic. Try your best to anticipate what your child’s needs may be and plan your holiday accordingly.

A major meltdown in front of friends and family can be avoided if parents opt to stay at a holiday party for a shorter, pre-determined amount of time.  

Keep your child informed of your plans.

Children react more favorably when they know what to expect. If you have plans every day of the winter break, consider writing them out on your family calendar or create a visual schedule of these events for younger children.

Adhere to your child’s daily schedule to the maximum extent possible.

For example, if you have a child of toddler age who naps every day from 1 to 3 p.m., it is important to continue this during the holiday season. Additionally, adhere to the holiday schedule that you have planned.

Set clear and reasonable behavioral expectations.

If the rule in your home is to treat others with kindness, it can be easily translated to holiday gatherings. Re-teach this behavioral skill and positively reinforce your child for engaging in the expected behavior.  

Parents may also wish to ask their hosts if they have particular rules in their home that their children should know in advance, such as eating and drinking in only kitchen or dining areas, etc.

If you are hosting holiday gatherings, keep your house rules stated positively by explaining what children are expected to do rather than focusing on what they are not allowed to do. “Wash your hands before dinner” is a more positive and preferable way to elicit good hygiene from children than stating something such as, “Don’t come to the table with dirty hands.” The children will know what is expected of them when the rules are stated explicitly and focus on what the expected behaviors “look like.”

Relax and enjoy.

Once you have the above structures in place, you have set your child up for success.

The holiday season is a time to relax and enjoy being with your child. Continue to provide your child with positive reinforcement for exhibiting the expected behaviors in the form of “I noticed you” statements. For example, “Schroeder, I noticed that you washed your hands before dinner. Thank you.”

Problem-solve accordingly throughout the relax-and-enjoy phase.

Perhaps your child needs more time for his afternoon nap. Revise your schedule accordingly. Or, maybe your child is not fully aware of what is expected of him at Aunt Sally’s house. As such, teach again Aunt Sally’s house rules or behavioral expectations.

The key to successful holiday behavioral management is to create structured environments in which your child knows what is expected of him at all times. Behavioral expectations need to be concise and explicit. Children need to be taught, and re-taught, the expectations, and they also need to be positively reinforced for engaging in expected behaviors.

Dr. Jessica Dirsmith is a school psychologist with the State College Area School District and teaches school psychology at Penn State.




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