The holiday season is full of change and excitement. From lights to sugary sweets, there is a lot to take in. Get-togethers and outings are magical but can be draining. For babies and kids the holidays just hit differently. In this post we are talking about how to make the holidays a more relaxing and enjoyable experience for your babies.
This is a magical time of year for everyone. There’s something about a baby and the lights and sounds of the holiday that can be extra exciting. But it can quickly go from exciting, to overwhelming.
As the weather starts to turn, twinkling lights appear just about everywhere. Whether in our homes, in store windows, or as you drive through neighborhoods, Christmas trees, yards, and holiday displays paint the night in a magical glow. We enjoy them as adults, but to a kid, holiday lights can be magical.
Even something as whimsical and beautiful as a light display can be a bit overwhelming for a child. It’s a break from their usual surroundings and creates a change in their routine.
The merriment that we look forward to as adults can be a bit too much for kids sometimes. The merry holiday music is a joy to hear. But hearing it on repeat, or too loud, can overstimulate a child. You hear it in the car, from mall loudspeakers, even the decorations we put up in our homes play these songs and jingles on repeat.
Get-togethers and parties are a lot of fun. But the sights and sounds are a lot for a pint sized human to take in. Kids can grow tired faster and have more breakdowns during these events. This is especially true when it’s their first holiday party, or if you haven’t seen the people attending in a while.
Changes to their Environment
In order to make room for decorations, sometimes we shift our furniture or rearrange some things over the holidays. New things pop up all over our houses. Our homes look and feel different, full of new sights and textures. Add in new toys, and guests staying over, and our houses take on a bit of clutter over the holidays.
Clutter can feel chaotic to a child. Guests staying over is both exciting and daunting. These situations make it harder for them to self-regulate or calm down. When the days turn into weeks, kids can feel a bit out of sorts in their own homes.
Changes to their Routine
Traditions like train displays, visits with Santa, holiday shopping, dinners, and parties require everyone in a family to adjust their routines. Adults are fairly flexible when it comes to editing our calendars. Kids thrive on routine. Little changes here and there can throw them off. Now create an entire month of changes and adjustments and just think of how overwhelming it can be.
Ahhh, the icing on the cake. Literally, icing is full of sugar as are all of the other delicious holiday treats. Candy canes, chocolates, desserts of all types are all over the place during the holidays. Kids' little bodies are affected differently by sugar. Even breastfed babies might feel a bit different when mom eats a few more cookies than normal.
Tips for a More Fun and Relaxed Holiday Season for the Kids
Their Rooms Are Their Sanctuaries
If your little one loves Christmas, it's okay to add a few kid safe holiday decorations like twinkling lights that are soft in glow and out of reach or holiday plush toys. For them it might give them a safe and measured way to enjoy the holiday on their own terms. If your child seems totally overwhelmed, avoid changing their room. Giving them a recognizable place to retreat from the chaos of the holidays can provide a calming place where they can rest, recharge, and regulate their emotions.
Typically we go into these spaces before naps or night time but if you notice your little one being a bit extra fussy during the day try retreating to their safe space. Together you can read a story, listen to some calming music, or just get some snuggles in together. Try this before or after guests visit, leaving the house for holiday traditions, or just when the holidays seem to get too hectic.
Meal Time Distractions
If you are breastfeeding (nursing or pumping), these holiday decorations, sounds, and smells can be very distracting which makes it harder for babies to eat. Their room being a break from these distractions can make feeding a calmer experience and ensure that your baby is getting enough to eat. Trying to feed them amidst the distractions might lead to interrupted feedings, which can lead to overly tired and cranky babies.
For toddlers who eat with us at the table, this can be trickier. If you can, try to cut down on the lights and sounds during meal time. Giving children a choice of what they would like to eat or where they might like to sit can help them feel a sense of control during an otherwise stressful time.
Plan Breaks to Give Kids Downtime
While you are making your holiday plans, schedule in down days or times to decompress. If you can, a full day of being at home and just going through their typical routine can be relieving for kids. On the days where you need to be out of the house, try to work in some quiet time before or after to give them a break.
Time spent cuddling, in close contact with you can help children regulate their emotions. If you are breastfeeding, plan some time doing so incorporating skin to skin. It can really help to soothe an overstimulated baby. Have older children? After bath time, schedule in some extra cuddles before bed to help melt away the stress from the day.
When Guests Stay with You
When guests who you don’t see often come to stay it can be either very exciting or totally overwhelming…or even a bit of both for children. Guests often want to play with, hold, or even snuggle your kids. Babies and toddlers are very sensitive to their surroundings. When these surroundings change, as they do with new people in the home, they are more likely to tire faster.
Handle this with a bit of grace. Expect babies to cry a bit more often and toddlers to have more meltdowns. Young children might act out to compete for your attention. Try setting aside some time as a family, to snuggle up and decompress. All climbing into mom and dads’ bed for some time as a family can help your children feel calm and decompress throughout the holidays. Who knows, your guest might want some quiet time to themselves!
Meeting New People at Parties
Meeting someone new is a lot for a kid. Meeting multiple new people at a party can be hard. To help manage the situation it helps to manage your own expectations and prepare your kids for this experience. Expect your child to be more shy or timid than normal. An otherwise adventurous toddler might be a bit more clingy. Rather than shoehorn them away from you, allow them to experience this new environment and new people on their terms.
You can also expect a few more meltdowns. These meltdowns are an outward sign that your child is experiencing a lot of emotions. These might be fear, anxiety, and/or exhaustion. Try to avoid punishing your child for this behavior. You can use this as an excuse to take your child away from the sights, sounds, and smells of a party to have a few quiet moments together.
Don’t forget their lovey. If your child loves a security blanket, stuffed animal, or have a favorite toy, take it along.
Some kids are social butterflies and love to doll out hugs and kisses. For other kids, especially overstimulated ones in a new environment, physical contact with anyone but mom or dad can be too much. Forcing children to give relatives hugs and/or kisses at any time let alone the end of the event can backfire big time. While grandma or your aunt might really want that hug, it might not be worth it for your child.
Consider your child, the event, and how they might be feeling before forcing any interactions. They might not be able to communicate that they are uncomfortable, fearful, overtired, or overwhelmed. Let your children know that they have autonomy over their bodies, and that it is okay to set boundaries around physical touch. Having this conversation before you get to the event is a great exercise not only in autonomy and boundaries, but also in communication for your child. Let them know that you will be there to support them and help to explain these boundaries to your friends and family. Your child might need back up when it comes time to make introductions or say goodbyes.