Have you ever noticed a correlation each year between spending time with extended family and friends over the holidays and the an uptick in the amount of advice you get on how you should be parenting? Everyone is indoors celebrating together at Grandma’s house and your child’s behavior and how you respond to it, is under the magnifying glass. How many times do you hear that they are “shy” or “too rough” or “picky” or even “stubborn”? It’s easy for other’s to step in and make judgments about your child’s temperament and how it should be handled, but more challenging for the parent who lives with it day in and day out. Many of our clients come to us after the holidays stinging from the criticism and looking for detailed instruction on how to become a better parent. No matter how old the child is, it's never to late to brush up on new skills.
According to clinicians, there are generally 9 different temperament traits that they examine when the child is responding to situations in a difficult manner. These include:
1. Disposition – Does he or she look at things in a positive or negative light? Is he or she moody?
2. Activity level – Is the child calm or always moving, fidgeting or doing something?
3. Approach to people – Does the child shy away from strangers?
4. Rhythmicity – Does he or she establish regular habits like going to bed at the same time each night and eating meals at certain times or is it all over the board?
5. Attention span – Can the child stick with a project or does he or she lose focus quickly? Does the child persevere to figure out a problem or give up?
6. Level of Reaction – Does the child respond passionately to a good or bad situation that arises, or does she react quietly and calmly?
7. Sensory – Is the child bothered by loud noises, certain food textures or smells, bright lights or speed?
8. Focus – Can the child shut out distractions and stay on task or is he or she easily distracted?
9. Adaptability – Does the child resist to change or make adjustments relatively smoothly?
One of the best things that you can do for your child is to provide the guidance they need to develop the character trait of flexibility. Some kids innately do well with change while others have a more stressful time, which can be amplified during the holiday season when your normal schedule is thrown off. To foster a positive attitude towards change, it’s helpful to start off by modeling the behavior yourself. For example, you are a vegetarian and get to grandma’s house for Christmas dinner only to realize that she hasn’t prepared anything you can eat. Show your child that you will make do without causing a stir by just having a larger portion of salad or by looking in the refrigerator for a viable option. When they see that you can roll with the punches, they will learn to look for solutions for a positive outcome as well.
If you know there is going to be a new experience coming up, talk to the child about the situation and listen closely to what the concerns are. Look for statements that include “never”, “always”, “everyone” or “no one” and help them rethink the situation with a more positive outlook. And, while we know that children thrive on structure and routine, it’s helpful to adjust things once in a while to show them that it’s okay to do something different. This way when they are at grandma’s house for the holidays and they don’t have their normal toys or electronics, instead of having a meltdown, they will learn to adapt and make the best of what they do have like a deck of playing cards, or a simple game of hide and go seek.