The holidays can be extra stressful time when you have young kids. The sugar highs (and crashes), new toys, travel, and stressed out parents can lead to more emotional meltdowns in kids. This can leave already frazzled parents feeling frustrated and taken for granted. So, how do we help young children navigate this holiday emotional roller coaster? Here are 5 ways to help your little ones identify and manage their feelings:
1. Don’t label their emotions “good” or “bad.” Jealousy and anger are natural human emotions, so resist the urge to shame or placate these emotions in your children. Instead focus on giving your child healthier ways to express these emotions. These early experiences with difficult emotions will help them develop coping skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
2. Use time-ins. Instead of sending your child to a time-out chair, instead remove them from the situation, sit with them, discuss what they are feeling, and discuss and practice coping strategies.
3. Compassionately respond to your child’s emotional reactions. Imagine how you would want a friend to respond to you if you called them when upset. If they were too calm, you would feel unheard and may escalate your emotion. If they got too upset, it might feel overwhelming or odd. If they moved right into fixing it, you would feel unheard. Instead of an overly calm voice, aim for mirroring at 50-75% of your child’s emotions so they feel heard and understood; allow them to vent and avoid moving to “fix it” mode until they are calm and ready to problem-solve.
4. Model honest and healthy emotion regulation to your children. Use your own melt-down moments to model self-compassion and coping techniques. For example, when angry in holiday traffic, say out loud, “I’m frustrated right now. I’m going to (take deep breaths, sing a song, call a friend) to help me calm down.” And invite your child to join in. Accurate and compassionate labeling of your own emotions is much more powerful (and realistic) than trying to keep it together all the time.
5. Regularly practice coping skills when you are both calm. Like meditation, building up emotional regulation requires a regular practice. Using mindfulness, breathing, relaxation, and meditation skills will help strengthen neural connections in your child’s brain that will last a lifetime. Consider it a gift you give your child (and yourself).
Holidays are a time of joy and stress, so remember to have extra grace and compassion for yourself and your children. Your kids are sensitive to your emotions and use them as a guide to how to feel in new circumstances. So, take time for self-care and rest. It will be a gift you give your whole family.