The mad holiday rush is too familiar: As you get ready to attend the second of many family Christmas gatherings, you remember dinner begins in an hour and the side dish needs to finish baking. The kids need to be dressed in their Christmas outfits (if they're clean yet), and one more gift needs to be purchased on the way. The baby needs to nurse and just had a diaper blow out. Your husband is trying to wrap some gifts while the 2-year-old continues to step on the wrapping paper and the 5-year-old tries to help by pulling tape off the roll. And, of course, you and your spouse have had only 4 hours of broken sleep.
The holiday chaos stands in contrast to the message that the Prince of Peace has been born.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
The least equipped people to weather the holidays are families with young children. Children operate best on routine, but holidays are focused on being out of routine. Being out of routine can throw off sleep schedules and meal times. Sugar, increased activity, and over-stimulation of gifts and people can cause children to feel overly excitable, agitated, and exhausted. Parents strung-out by the hustle and bustle rub off on their children's dispositions. All of these factors can create a less than a merry time.
If we recognize the challenges than we can seek out strategies to help offset them. Consider these ideas for navigating through the holidays well with young children.
Do not do it all. That means choosing some things and saying no to others. That requires prioritizing how to spend time and resources. Make decisions on how to budget time in order to prevent feeling unbalanced. That might well mean putting nap time first. But the hard part is saying no. It might be even harder to say no to your family so you can give equal time to your spouse's family. Making priorities is often easier than sticking to them. Communicating these scheduling decisions early with family will soften any hurt feelings of gatherings shortened or missed. How finances will be spent on holidays is also important to be discussed. Holidays can cause financial stress that children can sense. Families do not need to accomplish everything they would like or to the same magnitude.
Maintain as much of the normal routine as possible, especially sleep schedules. Most young children do not cope well with changes in their rest patterns. Some holiday activities may be more problematic than fun. Give yourself permission to show up late or go home early to ensure an adequate time to include the normal routines. And there's nothing wrong with using the kids' nap time as your chance to rest as well.
Another suggestion is to provide some rest and quiet time during the season, before, after, and if possible, during the busyness. Holidays are exhausting for mature adults and even more so for young children that are learning to regulate their internal feelings. Engage your kids is some deescalating activities such as reading books and coloring. Children that are more regulated and calm will enjoy the festivities and will be better behaved.
Provide physical activities to burn off the extra energy and excitement. Go outside or go to a gym. Encouraging physical exercise will help balance the increase of calories and will release endorphins, which increases happiness. Taking the kids outside to play or on a walk can help them calm down and may help with longer car rides and visits to family members.
It is easy to be swept up in the pressure of the hustle and bustle. If parents can maintain balance, families can enjoy the spirit of Christmas more fully. In God's strength, we can move from having troubled hearts to resting in God's peace.
Jesus tells us in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
Embracing the spirit of peace during the rush of the holiday season will lay an important foundation for young children to not only enjoy holidays but to also embrace the Prince of Peace.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster