Keeping holidays focused on the children

It’s happening again. We’ve all seen it before: A mother rushing along the sidewalk or through the mall, pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a 3-year-old who is pasted along her thigh, half-walking half-trotting in an effort to keep up.

The holidays are coming. The media is ratcheting up the excitement and the stores are inviting us in with glorious decorations, repetitive holiday music and store shelves overburdened with things to buy.

We are beginning to feel a little overwhelmed and as though we couldn’t keep up either. We wonder how the dictionary could ever have defined “holiday” as “That period of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

In the rush of it all, what can we do to keep the children – particularly the preschoolers – in mind over the next few weeks?

“Oh for goodness sakes” you might object. “We constantly keep them in mind. We rush about buying them toys so they will have plenty of gifts. We make sure they have special clothes to wear and we hurry to get their pictures taken with Santa. We push our time limits to take them to see the big-headed characters in the downtown shopping center. What more do you want us to do?”

Perhaps we should all take a minute to try to see things from young children’s perspective, since we insist “These holidays are for children.”

Doing so might result in fewer frantic moments and less exhaustion for everyone.

Perhaps your children really aren’t so keen on having a picture taken with Santa. This you may observe if you stand watching one preschoolers after another scream while being hoisted onto the bearded man’s lap.

Perhaps being pulled along through the mall trying to avoid the oncoming legs is not something that is fun. Perhaps a mound of toys, to be opened in a few hours is, in truth, overwhelming.

“Yes,” you agree, “each year we do resolve to calm it down – next time But each year we get caught up in the excitement and the guilt we know we’ll feel if we let someone down.”

We Grandmothers got together and, after admitting that we too get caught up in holiday excitement, decided to suggest the following ideas to young parents. It might help.

1. Let your preschoolers help you

Decide whether a picture with Santa or the trip to the mall to see the big-heads is worth the trip, the wait and the anxiety it often causes for young children.

Set up a place at home where things can be made by your preschoolers and wrapped as gifts.

Kids love to help in making cookies or decorating butcher paper with handprints or potato prints to use as wrapping paper.

Any mess can be cleaned up faster than you can go to a mall, find a parking space, lift your preschooler out of his car seat and keep track of him as you run from store to store.

More important, the times you are quietly spending with your child – and the inner pleasure she gets as she makes the gift, gives it and is showered with appreciation – far outweighs the time it takes to clean up. 

2. Prepare them for what’s happening

When your holiday involves travel to visit a friend or relative, prepare your children for what will happen. We take so many things for granted and forget it is all new to them. They may erroneously think, as one o four own grandchildren once did, that they won’t be returning home.

Young children fill in missing information with their own private assumptions that often never get voiced because they are afraid of what they may hear.

“Where will I sleep? Will there be a bathroom there? What’s a kennel and what will happen to Spot? Will someone feed him? Will we ever see him again?” There are reasonable questions for a young child who has little experience with such holiday hubbub.

Often people come to visit and household members are shifted to other rooms to make room for grandparents or friends. If this is a surprise to your preschooler be prepared for embarrassing tears of objection.

A discussion ahead of time about the change – about how hard it can be to give up a room for a few days, with a concrete description of exactly where everyone will sleep – often helps alleviate any showdown.

Being a part of the alternative plan and feeling the welcoming attitude of a mother and father beforehand enriches the experience in ways that live well beyond these holidays

3. Reduce the burden on yourself

We can take a cue from the breaking news each year that the “Black Friday” shopping rush has overtaken a little bit more of Thanksgiving Day, as employees implore management to “please respect our families and allow these rare times when we can be together.”

The times children remember as most special are those when parents themselves are able to relax and enjoy special time together.

Though it may be difficult at first, mothers and fathers can reduce the times when they are feeling they have to rush along with young children plastered to their sides to get it all done. Make these holidays “those periods of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

 

 

Leaving children for the weekend

No matter how laid-back the parents of young children are, they sometimes need a weekend get-away to take a break, tend to out-of-town family matters, attend a function where spouses are invited, etc.

When this need arises for the first time, they might have some concerns – especially if their child already fusses when a sitter comes for just the evening.

If the sitter can be someone your child already knows, such as an extended family member or good friend, so much the better.  There is already a relationship forming and the sitter knows some of the family routines and where to find things.

However, if none of these options is available you may have to choose a sitter your child has never met, but has good references and is recommended by someone whose judgment you trust. As parents, you will want to meet her and interview her before she comes to your house to meet your child.

Preparing for departure

Not too far ahead of the time you leave, you will want to tell your child of your upcoming plans and who will be staying with him/her while you’re away.

Your child will probably protest and won’t understand why she cannot go with you.  She will feel angry and left out.  The best way to get over left-out feelings is to have your child be a part of the planning. For example:

  • She can help you pick out the clothing she will wear while you’re gone and put it in a special place.
  • She can be a part of planning the menus for the meals she and the sitter will have together.
  •  She can pick out the games she might like to play with the sitter.
  •  You could take her to the library to pick out some new books they can read together.
  •  She could help make a plan for an outing while Mom and Dad are gone – the park/playground, the zoo, a movie suitable for young children.

As for you, Parents:  Even though there may be protesting that makes you feel guilty about leaving your unhappy child, don’t be tempted to try to sugarcoat the feeling by telling her about all the fun things she’ll be doing with the sitter while you’re gone. Instead sympathize with her and tell her the things you’ll do to help take the sting out of her missing feelings. For instance:

  • It would be very helpful if you would leave short notes for your child to read – one for each morning you’re gone and one for each evening.
  • Making a plan for a telephone call each day you’re gone will reassure her that you’re thinking of her.
  • Suggest that she draw some new pictures for the refrigerator to show Mom and Dad when you come home.
  • Leave a picture of the family together for her to look at so that she will have a tangible connection when she feels the “missing” the most.

When she can still feel “connected” she is less likely to be sad and angry because of a left-out feeling.

Time to leave

When the leaving day arrives, you as parents hope you’ve thought of everything – notes for the sitter, the name, number and address of where you’ll be beside the telephone. The bags are packed and in the car. The sitter has come and already has your child engaged in the game or book you suggested. You look at each other and are tempted to sneak out without saying “goodbye” and risking an upset.

Don’t you dare! When your child finds that you have gone without a hug or goodbye, she will really feel abandoned. It’s better to go to her, tell her you are leaving and give her your hugs. Tell her you will call her at the time that was arranged and now she and the sitter can finish the story or game. There will probably be tears, but you know that you and she will live through them.

Let me tell you a true story that one of our Grannies told about when she stayed with her 4 1/2-year-old granddaughter while her parents were on a trip.

It was bedtime. They had called and after they hung up, she was crying on her bed. I said, “Oh, Jadey, I know how hard it is to have Mommy and Daddy away. Would you like me to read to you before you go to sleep?” She raised herself up on her elbows and cried out, “NO – I just want to lie here and miss my Mommy and Daddy!” and she again flopped down on her tummy.  Jadey’s Granny reminds us that “We all want to do that at different times in our lives – well beyond 4 or 5 years of age.

Coming home

So, you did it.  You spent a weekend away and feel refreshed for it even though the planning felt endless. Don’t be surprised if, after the first hugs and kisses when you return home, they are followed by signs of your child ignoring you. She might even find a reason to become angry with you about something. Maybe the gift you brought her was “dumb.”  Maybe what you’re preparing for dinner smells “yucky.” She might fuss about going to bed because “it’s not fair” that you get to stay up later.

This reaction is pretty normal for a young child who has had to “suck it up” and stay with a sitter overnight for the first time. She felt left out then, now it’s your turn.

All of the careful planning and good preparation in the world can’t make up for the fact that you left her behind and had fun without her.

Image courtesy of Rawitch/FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

The forgetful child and feeling forgotten

As a child psychoanalyst, I provide consultation services to tutors who work with children who have learning troubles.  My job is to help them understand that behavior is a meaningful communication. Children can’t always tell you how they’re feeling; they let their behavior do the talking.

Recently a tutor reported that a boy showed up for class without his school supplies. So, the tutor gave him a pencil and paper only to learn that he “forgot them somewhere” by second period. This “forgetting” happened over and over again.

So, what was the boy really saying to his tutor? Was he feeling forgotten?

Sometimes children believe their parents get so busy during the day with work or, worse yet, taking care of younger siblings, that they forget all about them. Of course, as is true of all behavior problems, this is just one possibility. However, it’s worth exploring.

You can do it by saying something like this:

“You seem to be forgetting a lot lately. I wonder if you ever feel forgotten. Maybe you think I get so busy while you’re at school that I don’t think about you.”

Then see what he/she says. If this is the issue, encourage your child to elaborate as much as he/she can and then acknowledge, “What a sad thought that you’re feeling forgotten.  So, how can I help you know that I keep you in mind?”

This could be something simple like putting a note in your child’s lunch: “I just wanted you to know I will be thinking about you. Love, Mom.” Or maybe you could put a picture of you and your child in his backpack with a note that says, “When you get home tonight, I’ll be so glad to hear about your school day.” Often these little reminders can be quite helpful to children who worry about being forgotten.

Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mom works and the kids don’t like it

Dear Grandmothers,

Until recently I have been a stay-at-home mom with several small project-based jobs I could do online for extra money during early morning hours. A few months ago, I took on a real online part-time job because our family needs the money. I now work on my laptop at the kitchen table while I cook, while the kids do homework, etc. and time with my 6- and 8-year-old children has been severely cut. My kids are unhappy – “hating mommy’s job,” acting out, making it hard to concentrate when I have to. I feel bad for them and want things to be better but I have to keep this job. Any advice?”

Samantha R., Lakeshore Blvd.

 

Dear Samantha,

We grandmothers claim to know almost all there is to know about raising kids, but your question leads us first to a confession: When we were young mothers we didn’t have to deal with your problem.

Remember the 50s? Well, probably you don’t, but you’ve seen it on TV. Very few moms worked; they were at home baking cookies and playing with the kids. Except the truth of the matter is, we didn’t play with the kids all that much; the kids entertained themselves for the most part. And some of us got tired of baking cookies and wished we had jobs so we’d have our own bank accounts. The good old days.

But your children won’t be comforted much by watching re-runs of Leave it to Beaver. They expect to have as much of your attention as they ever did, and they resent having to share you with your job.

Being a modern mom you probably did frequently bake cookies and play with your kids, and now you can’t do that as often. What many parents feel in this situation is guilt, and it comes out when they say things like: “I have to work so we can buy [brand name] video games and [brand name] tennis shoes and eat out regularly at the [brand name] hamburger emporium. And won’t we have fun at Disneyland this summer?”

Parents don’t like to disappoint their children and they don’t want to hear about their children’s unhappiness. So they try to jolly the kids out of it.

In a word, don’t. Instead, acknowledge in full their anger.

Try to find out all the specifics of their resentment, and don’t try to convince them that they’re exaggerating and it isn’t so bad as all that. You don’t have to agree – just listen and nod understanding.

Tell them that you miss having things the way they were, too. Swallow your guilt and listen to their sadness. Just feeling “heard” by you will make them feel better, the same way you feel better after having confided your problems to a friend who is a good listener.

Then start talking about ways you all might adjust to this new reality. They don’t need to hear the details of the electric bill being overdue and the car needing a new transmission, but you can talk about being a family and working together differently now.

Recognize your children for managing to solve a problem or do a task without your help that, in the past, they might have asked you to do. Emphasize how capable they have become; tell them that, in fact, their help would be appreciated with some of the household tasks that you used to do all by yourself.

Explain how you could be spending more time with them if you were doing some of these tasks together; while you’re working at the kitchen laptop, for example, they could be helping you get dinner on the table. They could certainly learn to help with the laundry, and assist in clean-up after dinner.

They might complain from time to time about their newly assigned chores. Bbut you could end up feeling less pressured; they more competent and needed; and all of you important members of the family team.

Be sure to schedule some family play times as well, and strictly adhere to that schedule. Don’t make these costly outings that you can’t really afford, but research some inexpensive or even free activities: ice skating at Wade Oval costs nothing more than $3 skate rental; the zoo charges no admission on Mondays; a favorite family board or card game is free. So are hikes in the woods.

During one of those hikes you might tell your kids about that job of yours and how sometimes you don’t like it but often you do, just like sometimes they hate school but often they actually have fun there.

Tell them in words they can understand what exactly your work entails, and what you had to learn to be able to do it – and branch off to a discussion of the kind of work they might want to do some day. We want them, after all, to appreciate the world of work, and look forward to it.

You don’t have to tell your kids this next part, but you could help yourself feel less guilty by realizing that you’re actually teaching your children some valuable lifelong lessons here.

Although life can be hard we can usually find ways to cope, and children need to learn this as they grow up; they will be better prepared for the challenges they meet later on.

And you and your husband are setting a wonderful example for your children by working hard together to do what needs to be done, without resentment or blaming anyone. (Of course, there are sure to be times when you do feel resentment; try to voice these only to each other, after the kids are in bed.)

Some day these will be the good old days.

Image courtesy of Imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net