Guest post by Karen DeBoard, Ph.D., Family & Human Development Extension Specialist
Holidays come so quickly and are gone just as swiftly. It seems Jack-o’-lanterns and goblins soon give way to pilgrims and turkeys and are almost immediately replaced by the red and green symbols of Christmas holidays.
If you’re attempting to fit the joys of parenting in with shopping, decorating and your usually hectic schedule it’s a good idea to remind yourself about what behavior is normal and predictable from your young children.
Most children act their age. While pictures in magazines show beautifully attired, clean, calm children sitting patiently for hours on end and behaving themselves, you must keep in mind those are just pictures. Real children go through stages. Let the stages of your young ones help determine your activities at holiday time. Take time to enjoy the phase your child is in – stressing that how a child acts is tied to his or her age and stage of development.
As parents, we need [to be] reminded to keep everything in perspective during the hustle bustle of the holidays–especially where children are concerned. Holiday money woes, stressed schedules, and excited children are a formula for family stress. Children learn from you how to manage stress. They will mirror your behavior. The holidays can be a wonderful time but also there is added stress and a snowball effect of everyone’s stress coming into play.
Much like younger children and older children, four year olds are enthusiastic, silly, eager and fun. They love the holidays and love celebrations. Whether it is a birthday or an extended vacation, they now can remember last year and can anticipate activities. Stretch out the holidays for them. Take them to events, but not too many or for too long. They may have highs and lows and may sometimes be cranky, but they generally behave well. Most four-year-olds are dramatic and imaginative, so this is a perfect holiday for them.
Typically five year olds are composed and “together.” They are much improved in behavior over previous years because they are beginning to set their own limits. At this age, they may actually keep Grandma’s surprise gift a secret long enough to let her open the package. Since they like to help and do things alone, this would be a good year for projects. This year it might be a good idea to take them shopping. It may also be a first year for really liking the man in the big red suit rather than being afraid of the jolly old character. Expect a long list of gifts, but remember they are better off with just a few.
Six year olds may want to be the hub of it all, but they can’t take it all in. This is not the easiest Christmas for them them, however. They might brag, think no one else can compare to them, and forget their manners. They like making things and can stretch a project over several days, so try more involved projects.
Whatever you do, take time to enjoy your children and the holidays. It is a once-in-a-lifetime role!