Avoid Holiday Meltdowns

This holiday season I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with many parents and lend advice. The following is an article that is featured in this month’s edition of NewbyMom.com.

The holidays are a hectic time of year. Parents scurry around town buying gifts, prepping the house for guests and are in a constant state of hurry. Once the kids are on Christmas break, everyday routines fly out the window. There isn’t baseball practice or ballet class, no appointments to keep. At first, it seems like heaven, both the parents and the kids wear pajamas until lunchtime and there are no rules. It’s pure joy until boredom sets in and the trouble begins. So how do you avoid holiday meltdowns that can make your household not so merry?

Here are some helpful hints to keep your children from turning your holidays “Grinch-y”:

Children need routine. The structure of a routine is soothing to your child’s brain, keeping stress at bay. Also, children need to feel in control and safe. When children feel safe, they are more likely to be cooperative and respectful. Take the time to make a routine for the holidays, even if each day looks different.

Talk to your children in pictures, especially those eight years old and younger. Children have immature inner speech until about age eight, which means that children think in pictures without any sound, similar to a silent movie. Children younger than eight need to know what the day will look like, especially during a time when there seems to be no structure. Take pictures of what the new routine will look like and either post it in your home or make it into a “Holiday Book.” Have fun with it and involve your children, it will be a memorable keepsake as well.

Talk to your children like you would talk to your co-workers. Politely and assertive, of course. Children need to be told what to do. Also, young children retain information in their brains for roughly 20 seconds. So when talking to them, remain calm and speak with an assertive voice while focusing on what you want. Spend your time reminding and prompting wisely. When you give information, observe your tone of voice. Is it passive, “It’s time to leave, okay?” Is it aggressive, “Get in the car right now!” Is it assertive, “We’re leaving, get in the car.”

The assertive voice is the voice of knowing and children feel safe when they are with an adult that is composed and calm.

Children need sleep. Don’t forgo sleep for the joy. Children with sleep deprivation are emotional and exhibit defiant behavior and moodiness. Put a large chunk of time for sleep in your routine. This will also give you time to relax and decompress.

Start new family traditions. Children need to feel connected and the holidays are a perfect time to institute some rituals or traditions into your family. Rituals create connections and are the glue that holds the family together. So whether it’s baking cookies, decorating the tree, looking at the Christmas lights or ice skating, these types of family traditions build loving, emotionally healthy children. Make sure your rituals have touch, eye contact and playfulness. This will strengthen the dopamine in your child’s brain which helps them focus and connect. Children that feel connected are more likely to cooperate.

As a parent, we want to give our children the most magical Christmas possible. In the end, you are the best present you can give your child, so be the present with your presence. My grown sons’ best memories of Christmas are not the toys that they received; it was the anticipation and the surprise that they remember. So have fun with it and you’ll have a joyous holiday full of fond memories that will last a lifetime without all the meltdowns.

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Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Celebrating 97 Years

This past November 11, 2010, was my mom’s 97th birthday.  That is not a typo.  She really turned 97 years old.  As a child, I don’t remember ever celebrating her birthday, ever!  We were not allowed to ask her age and she was highly insulted when anyone would ask her age.  I forgot to mention that she is from the Deep South and that just might explain some of this story.

Let me hasten to add that as a child I had the best birthday parties.  Those memories are locked in my brain; memories of slumber parties with my best friends.  I even received a phone call from an elementary school friend this past year.  She woke up on my birthday wondering why she was thinking of me and then realized it was my birthday.  I was 59 years old when she called so talk about long term memory.

But I have strayed from the original story!  My mom turned 97 years old and what do I get for someone that has it all and can’t even truly enjoy it?  She has dementia and is in a wheel chair.  She is in an unbelievable place that takes care of her every basic need; including safety.  So really what can I give someone that I have loved and do love but don’t feel that “special” connection?  I believe that what I give to others I strengthen in myself.  How can I reach out to her and intentionally connect to her and believe that she can and will feel my love and my connection to her even through the dementia.

So what did I do?

There is a fabulous book, I Love You Rituals by Dr. Becky Bailey.  It was written with the intent of making connections with young children and boosting their brain power.  I’ve implemented I Love You Rituals (ILYRS) with countless children and observed amazing connections, focus and concentration.  All ILYRS have eye contact, touch, presence and a bit of playfulness.  It takes maybe 15-20 seconds and it strengthens the dopamine which helps attention and concentration.  I wondered if there was a way to apply the same principle with a different look for my mom.  I decided to do the same I Love You Ritual but two different ways and see what happened.  I chose “Twinkle, Twinkle”.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

What a wonderful mom/granny you are!

With bright eyes and nice round cheeks,

Talented mom/granny from head to feet.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

What a wonderful mom/granny you are!

I arrived at my mom’s room.  I think that she recognized me just from the way she looked at me.  She never called me by name.  I began to sing“Twinkle Twinkle” and she began to sing with me.  She definitely was “with” me.  Later, I  gathered all four great-grandchildren.  We practiced “Twinkle” twice.  We put Granny in the center of the five of us and sang “Twinkle.”  We ended with a group hug around her.  For the rest of the day, my mom was alert and present with me and all of her great-grandchildren.  What a present from all of our hearts to her heart.  Our present was our presence.

Check out this great book that can transform relationships with eye contact, presence, touch and playfulness.

 

 

I Love You Rituals: Activities to Build Bonds and Strengthen Relationships with Children.

Did I mention that there are two music CD’s of I Love You Rituals that help establish the rituals?

Love or Fear ?

Do you ever wonder why you do certain things, like why do you reward yourself with a piece of cake or a new pair of shoes for being a responsible citizen?  Why did I just eat two pieces of chocolate cake for just making a good grade?  Well, today I got a glimpse of where it just might come from with some other insights along the way.

I went for a walk in my neighborhood this morning and ran into a neighbor with her three year old daughter.  I joined up with them and we began to catch up with each others lives.  Her daughter was on her tricycle having a great time.  Her stuffed animal dog was along for the ride.  Of course the dog slipped off the bike and none of us noticed for quite a distance.  The daughter was the first to notice and she gladly went back on her bike and picked up the dog.  Mom watched her safely go back and return.  Mom states loudly, “Good job!”  I immediately responded to my neighbor “what was so good about that?”  She looked at me puzzled.  I said “look at how responsible she was to go back happily and willingly to pick up her dog.  Notice and describe what she did and then add that was helpful.  When you notice and describe it stimulates her frontal lobes.  You’ve authentically noticed her being responsible.”  My neighbor immediately responded to her daughter and did a “high five.”  The daughter’s face lit up like a Christmas tree.  I looked at my neighbor and said “you have a choice.  You can say “good job” or you can notice and describe and get a lit up Christmas tree every time.”

On we go around the block and my neighbor raises her voice to her daughter to “STOP” at the street as a car was approaching the intersection.  The daughter stops and my neighbor rushes to her daughter’s side with anxiety and fear flowing through every cell of her body.  She begins to utter the usual remarks as every parent encounters a fearful moment.  I kept up with my neighbor and quickly and gently interrupted her remarks by saying to the daughter, “You heard your Mom scream “stop” and you stopped.  Mommy’s job is to keep you safe.  You stopped.  You did it.”  Again, her face lit up that she had indeed stopped.  She had listened.

We continued on our way and my neighbor said to her daughter, “you get five jelly beans when we get home.”  The daughter’s face looked a bit confused as to why but she wasn’t about to turn down jelly beans.  I asked “why?”  My neighbor answers as if I am from Mars.  “We give out jelly beans for good behavior.”  My brain is wondering why she is rewarding her daughter for just being responsible; for listening.

My brain raced ahead 20 years and I could see this preschooler as a young girl rewarding herself with chocolate cake when she was good.  And then I began to go deeper and wonder what compels parents to parent from a posture of fear; a fear that their child won’t be a responsible citizen unless they “reward” their child for just being good.  I believe that being in relationship with your child will motivate them to “behave.”  Children will more likely choose to behave if they feel noticed for kind acts; for listening.  Your words of noticing are the reward!  “You went back and picked up your dog.  That was helpful.”  Your reward is that your child will grow up to be a cooperative, loving and caring adult.

It’s your choice; love or fear.