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Preparing for the Holidays—and Challenging Behavior

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The holidays are nigh and children are understandably excited and filled with anticipation. Televisions are filled with advertisements that target children and adults alike. Coupled with all of this anticipation are the seemingly mandatory activities that come along with the season. The upcoming weeks will be filled with shopping, eating out, parties, play dates, and visits to relatives. Young children—especially those who are still forming behavior patterns—may become frustrated and fearful with even familiar activities. The holidays are an enjoyable but challenging time and it is important to be sensitive to children. Here are a few tips that can help parents survive the season:

Be Consistent: It is important to be as consistent as possible with children especially when it comes to setting behavior expectations. If you allow your child to “get away” with a behavior in one setting while attempting to enforce it in another they may become confused. Children take comfort and rely on consistency so give it to them. If you allow your child to run around the table at a fast food restaurant, don’t be surprised to find it difficult to keep them seated at a sit down holiday dinner.

Make Expectations Clear: As much as possible speak your child’s language. Refrain from using sarcasm, which can be confusing and misleading. Frequently review “the rules” before an activity so that a child knows what you expect of them. Avoid using “no” and “don’t” in your instructions as these words frequently cause children to tune out. Before going to a family dinner you may say, “Please remember to stay with mommy and use your inside voice.”

Offer Choices: Children love to feel empowered. They often have to do activities per their parent’s request that they would rather not. Allowing children to choose activities and occasionally opt out of less desirable activities shows children that you respect them and their feelings. You could try something like, “Would you like to eat lunch before or after we shop?”

Reward and Praise: In all of the bustle and stress of the season (and everyday life) don’t forget to praise your child when they are being appropriate. This is one of the most effective ways a parent can reinforce desirable behavior. Children love attention and it is always better to give positive attention rather than negative. Also, be sure to be as specific as possible when you are praising children so they know exactly why they are being praised. Phrases like, “I like the way you are sitting at the table” or “You did a really good job keeping your hands to yourself, here is a sticker” can go a very long way.

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