Written for the SENGvine
Fall usually means cooler weather, sweatshirts, jackets, crisp apples, and changing colors in nature. Fall also brings on the holiday season and, with it, the rush of trying to get everything done in time to celebrate the holidays.
Holidays are meant to be fun celebrations, bringing together family and friends. Yet, many people find this time of year to be stressful and anxiety provoking: families coming together for Thanksgiving, gifts to be purchased that are suitable and still affordable in a difficult economic climate, homework to be completed, semester exams, and holiday recitals and events. All together, that sounds extremely overwhelming. Add to that the sensitivities of a gifted individual, mixed in with some perfectionism and a dash of organizational challenges, and you have a recipe for disaster!
Gifted children tend to feel the “bumps along the road” more easily and more deeply than the average person. Their emotional shock absorbers seem to be just a bit looser. That does not mean that the holiday celebrations are something to avoid or fear. With a little bit of understanding and planning, holiday celebrations can fun, relaxed, and filled with the meaning that was originally intended, without throwing everyone in a tailspin.
Start by anticipating the holidays with your children. Spend time talking with your kids about what you expect to happen, who will be visiting, what events are planned, and how the schedule may be different from their regular one. Then, ask your children how they envision the holidays unfolding. Are there particular people they would like to see, places they would like to go or things they would like to do? For example, we used to have a tradition of going to a particular pumpkin patch when my children were younger. One year, we were not able to go to the pumpkin festival due to a family event. Fortunately, we knew in advance, were able to discuss the change in plans, and came up with an alternate solution. As insignificant as that may seem to an adult, the break in tradition was a huge event for my four year old!
Spend some time understanding and creating some intentions for the holidays. Intentions could be as straightforward as wanting to sleep more (for adolescents), catching up with friends who go to a different school, or visiting the grandparents. It might be helpful to have all family members write down their intentions for that holiday and post it on a board where they are visible. This visual reminder is a wonderful way of to stay in touch with everyone’s original intentions.
Most importantly, communicate with your children before, during, and after the holidays. Tantrums, disappointments, and other challenges can be easily alleviated with better communication. Teach your children to communicate their wishes and desires by modeling that communication yourself. Keep in mind that wanting something will not necessarily make it happen, but at least there is an understanding among the family of what is desired. Any potential disappointment is more easily accepted and acknowledged with communication and understanding. Communication is two ways. Listening to your child is equally as, if not more important than, speaking to them.
Routines are frequently considered a hurdle that most people bypass when they are on vacation. It is a welcome release of being on holiday. While it is healthy to ease up on the routine, eliminating it entirely can cause anxiety among gifted children. The general routine provides a structure and, therefore, some security to a gifted child, so don’t eliminate it entirely. Modify it for the holidays, and continue to keep some basic parameters: an adjusted bedtime but still at the same time every night, exercise, time spent outdoors, and quiet time or naps when appropriate.
Sleep is one of the first things to go when families are on holiday. Everyone is having so much fun that the kids stay up later and wake up later than usual. While this may seem to be fun initially, it throws off the body clock, and you may see more tantrums and stubborn behavior. Consider delaying the bedtime, but try to keep it consistent each day of the holidays. Remember that just because children are on vacation, does not mean that they do not need sleep. In fact, they need more time to recuperate from all the extra stimulation from family, activities, and food.
Food is another area that can be challenging. Many holiday traditions are centered around food. Eating excessive sugar can be a challenge around Halloween and even some of the other fall holidays. Without denying the treats, limit how much your children consume at any given time. Eating differently from what their bodies are used to may result in a crankier child, hyperactivity, or tantrums.
Technology is another area where parents tend to loosen the strings. Children who enjoy playing video games, and watching television and movies are sometimes given “free rein” on vacation. These tools actually overstimulate the brain and can pose difficulty with sleep as well as other behavioral issues. Moderation is always best. Be mindful of how much screen time your kids are enjoying and try to balance it with time outdoors and socializing with others.
Most of all, remember your original intentions for the holidays. Keep it simple and fun, and enjoy the time with your family and friends. I hope you have a peaceful and healthy holiday season.