What could go wrong with holiday songs, gifts and yummy treats? A lot if you have an anxious child.
Any alteration from a predictable routine can make anxious children feel on edge. Add a bunch of overstimulating and socially demanding activities and you might have a child on overload.
So should you shrink wrap your anxious child and put her away until after the holidays? No way! Holidays are the best time of the year. With a few minor adjustments and tips -- you can make this time of year go much more smoothly for you and your child!
Here are 5 basic tips to make the holidays go well:
1. Give your child plenty of warning and "previewing" of the days and weeks ahead.
Most anxious children are planners. They like to know what is happening at all times. Take the time to tell your child what is on the schedule each day. With school breaks, holiday parties and lots of traveling -- their routine will probably be off.
For older children you can make a calendar and hang it on their wall. Highlight what activities will be happening each day. The more time a child has to prepare for an event or activity the less likely they will become anxious.
2. Pace yourself -- you don't have to attend every holiday event in a 50 mile radius!
If you are like me, you want to soak up the holidays and don't want to miss out on any special events. Unfortunately our anxious kids do not always feel the same. Too many events can leave our children drained and depleted of energy. They might feel overwhelmed or over stimulated. Make sure to plan some down time between each event you attend. Go home and let your child recharge after holiday parties.
3. Don't force social interaction on your introverted child.
Some anxious children are more socially self-conscious. Having a bunch of friends and distant relatives hug, kiss and interrogate them can be more than some kids can handle. You can help by not forcing your child to "go hug Great Aunt Martha" and tell the whole room "that funny joke you told us in the car!" Don't put your kids on the spot if they don't like the spotlight. You can tell your kids prior to arriving at a social gathering that you expect them to say "hi" and to smile, but you will not force them to hug or interact with people.
4. Watch the sugar and caffeine -- unless you want your children to turn into gremlins!
Some kids tolerate sugar more than others. To avoid a "sugar high" and the ensuing meltdown -- try to limit the half ton of sugar your child will want to digest over the holidays. I was never a major "sugar police" until my anxious child showed me that he becomes a puddle of emotional volatility when he has too much sugar. Now I watch every crumb of sugar he shoves into his mouth -- as I know we will all pay for it later.
Caffeine is not only in coffee. It is in all those chocolates your child is cramming two at a time in their little mouth. For anxious kids caffeine is their kryptonite. Anxiety already causes kids to feel jittery, add a legitimate stimulant to their body and they might feel like they are having a panic attack.
5. Watch your child's sleep cycle during the holidays.
Most kids don't want to miss anything, but anxious kids might take that to another level. They might fear that if they sleep they might miss some of the fun -- or miss a spotting of the Elf on the Shelf or Santa himself. Parties that run late into the night, might also wreak havoc on your child's sleep routine.
Many kids can function perfectly fine with a disrupted sleep cycle -- but anxious children usually don't fare as well. The more tired an anxious child, the more heightened their level of sensitivity becomes -- and trust me -- that is not a good thing during the holidays.
Try to keep bedtime at a reasonable hour, even during the holiday season. Put your child at ease that they will not miss anything when they are in a deep slumber. Let them know that elves and Santa did not like it when kids try to sneak out and see them -- it ruins the magic of Christmas.
Holidays are such a magical time for children. Hopefully with these tips -- all of your children will be able to enjoy the holidays without turning into a puddle half way through!