Holidays! They conjure up many, many images and along with how those images are conjured up come memories. For some, perhaps for many these are joyful and loving memories and for some, perhaps many these memories are painful and the images are triggers. The memories conscious and unconscious that come along with sights, sounds, smells, touch are the triggers. When you find your children, (bio, foster, adopted) “acting out” their behavior is signaling that they are in distress. And it isn’t because they don’t want a visit from Santa, or the Chanukah dreidel they are dysregulated and no amount of threatening, cajoling, consequenting will change their behavior in the long run. They might shape up for a couple of minutes, hours or if you are lucky a whole day or two. But, the outrageous, unacceptable behaviors will continue.
Here are some suggestions to make the holidays more peaceful for your family:
- Window of Tolerance
Be mindful of your own tolerance level for chaos, mess, unpredictability and just the overall stress of holiday spending, preparation, drain on your mental and physical energy. Keep it in check by not overbooking, not overspending, and most of all keeping your expectations of yourself always in the forefront of your plans.
Consider your child’s window of tolerance and don’t overplan for him, don’t keep him up late, don’t use the “you’d better be good or…” routine because it will only increase the level of stress narrowing the window and almost guaranteeing a meltdown.
- Time In
Instead of putting your child in time out, bring her into you. Let her know it is all too much and you understand. By bringing her next to you, instead of sending her off by herself to “think about what she has done” at a time when her brain is unable to thing, you will be helping her to calm. You will be letting her know that you know it is all too much for her and you are helping to slow it all down.
- Be Proactive
Predict when your child might be about to lose it and scoop him up and suggest getting some air together, even if you are in the middle of a sing along; even if the turkey has just been brought to the table. If there are three events planned for the celebration and by the second one, your child is whining and tattling (yes, even your 14 year old…remember when we stress, we regress) say that you are calling it a day. Do not use this as a way of consequenting, but as a loving way of understanding that he just cannot tolerate another celebration.
- You Can’t Always Be There
Keep in mind that there will be times, that you can’t be where your child is when her window of tolerance begins to slam shut. Know that she is doing the best that she can at that moment and so are you.
I have been a social worker for 31 years. My work has been with families and children first in the area of Child Protective Services and then as a therapist working with the same population. I have worked with divorcing and divorced parents teaching co-parenting techniques, supervised therapists and have been a social worker for emotionally challenged children and adolescents in an inner city school system. About 7 years ago I was introduced to the work of Bryan Post and, as a friend and colleague said at the time…I went Post-al. All of my previous assumptions and indeed my work using behavioral interventions, got pushed aside. And along came the realization that none of the interventions, meant to change behaviors, had anything in common with helping children heal from the trauma they had experienced. My best work these days is as a coach/consultant for parents, other caregivers, and teachers. The services I provide are parent education, coaching, consulting and supervising. I am the mother of five adult children and grandmother to five. I am both a bio mom and an adoptive mom.