Giving your Children the Chance to Contribute to One of the Busiest Times of the Year
Family life is typically busy with school, extracurriculars, parents’ work demands and more. But add a series of holidays to the already busy schedule and the resulting stress can reach a fever pitch. As I compare notes with friends, we seem to be more accident prone and our kids are all taking turns coming down with colds and flus. So there’s an obvious response to the question, “Could you use extra help?” Yes!
What if you could find extra help among your children to add to the joy and reduce the stress of the season? What if you could build social and emotional skills like cooperation in the process? What if it took a just a little bit of proactive time to reap these benefits over the entire season? Intrigued? If you realize that all humans are motivated by three emotional needs – a sense of autonomy, belonging and competence – you can build on that knowledge, meeting those needs, preventing misbehaviors and getting help with a little discussion upfront. Here’s how to gain holiday helpers.
Discuss why the season produces opportunities for help.
Focus first on the joy that comes with celebrating winter holidays. But along with that joy of the moment comes planning and preparation. You might ask, “Do you notice that you feel more stressed or upset this time of year?” “Do you notice that we have more to get done than usual?” Give them time to consider these questions and offer responses and examples. Because of the added pressures, this is the time when you will enjoy these experiences more together if you are working as a team.
Ask open-ended questions.
Mention a few of the tasks that need to be accomplished over the coming month such as going out to purchase gifts for family members or cleaning the house. Ask each child, “In what ways can you help?”
Kids write or draw helping behaviors.
Have a poster board and markers at the ready. Ask each child draw a picture of himself. Then next to the picture, have them write their ideas for helping. The more your kids can write and draw themselves, the better. If you are assisting with the writing, keep language simple and brief.
Then add one stressful challenge you find important.
Consider which behavioral challenge you would most like to address with this exercise. Pick one that may be a daily annoyance and add to the stress of a situation. In conversation with other parents, for example, I often hear that sibling fighting while Mom is trying to cook dinner is a common problem. Raise that one challenge with your kids and ask for their ideas on how that time of day and their role in it could improve. What could they do in that situation? Set the expectation that each one will focus only on his/her own behavior and contributions. If a child begins to blame another, refocus her attention on her own behavior. You might say, “You can only control yourself. So how can you act when your sister is trying to engage you in an argument to stop it from going any further?” Add that helping behavior to your poster.
Practice through interactive modeling.
Tell your child what you will model and why.
“Let’s practice how we can stop a fight when it’s just beginning. What would you say that might
get your sister upset?” And to sister, “What would you say or do that might make your sister
Model the behavior.
Role play a constructive response. “I don’t want to argue. I will move over here to play.”
Ask your son or daughter what he/she noticed.
“What did you notice about what I did to avoid a fight?”
Ask your each child to model what he/she will do and say.
Your child might show you how she moves her toys to another part of the room and tells her
sister she is moving and doesn’t want to fight. Give all siblings a chance to practice.
Point out what they did well. “I appreciate that you moved yourself across the room in addition to
what you said to her. I think that could work!”
Hang up your holiday helpers poster and use it as you go through your daily routine. Before you encounter typical struggles, point to it and use a few brief words to remind of their helping behavior agreements.
It can be a hectic time so positive behaviors can easily go unnoticed. But if you want to encourage helping behaviors, it’s critical that you reinforce them. Instead of quickly moving through a routine without incident and moving on, a simple statement to tell your children you noticed their cooperation can go a long way toward promoting more of the same. “I notice you carried packages from the car to the house without my prompting. That’s a big help!”
You may consider other special occasions when you want to utilize this “holiday helpers” method. When our sitter watched a group of children so that the adults could go out to dinner, we worked on a poster together before we left to help the sitter and to get all of the kids on the same helpful team. This whole process can take the same amount of time as a cartoon episode on television but can yield lasting outcomes. Instead of being passive recipients of the events and gifts of the season, kids can be significant contributors. They can think through and offer ways to be helpful. And they can follow through in cooperating and taking responsibility with your recognition and support. No matter what holidays you celebrate this season, you can use that kind of help!
For additional ideas for easing the stress with kids during the winter holiday season, check out these: