More is not always better. Often, with “more” comes more stress. Especially as parents of young children, we are dealing with “more” these days: more errands, more family issues, more family from out-of-town — you name it. All of these result in more on our to-do list.
We seem to have less time, patience and coping skills. The not-so-good news is that the children in our lives feel this stress. They are like little sponges, absorbing and picking it up. And we see this often in their choices and behaviors.
Children can indeed be affected adversely by changes and milestone events such as holidays, a new home or car, a new sibling, a new daily routine, a new caregiver or a change in the family structure. Observe the children in your life this week even more closely. There are signs they are picking up your stress. You may see some of these signs, which may only appear for a short time and then go away, or may last awhile:
- Changes in eating, sleeping or bathroom habits
- Increased separation anxiety from parents or teachers
- Bad dreams or extended crying spells
- Nail-biting, thumb-sucking or hairpulling
- Feeling sick, headaches, stomachaches
- Chewing on clothing or other items
- Wanting to be alone or withdrawn from others
- Increased aggressive behavior or acting out
So how can you help your child cope with how you may be feeling, and what you may be doing or over-doing?
Here are some suggestions that may help:
- Reflect on your expectations – are they developmentally appropriate? For example, during changing seasons, the amount of clothing your child needs to put on before going outside to play is increased. It may just be adding a hat and sweater; for others it may be a whole snowsuit and boots. It is our job as parents to adjust the time it takes to do those routines, as well as adjusting our expectations around those routines.
- Have you practiced putting on snowsuits, taking off shoes, putting on boots and getting on a pair of mittens or gloves? Why not practice at a time when you don’t have to be somewhere in five minutes?
- Simplify your child’s schedule; don’t just keep adding to it. For example, if you and your child are invited to a party, do not try to go grocery shopping and drop off library books before taking the family dog to the vet in the same afternoon.
- Make such an event one big learning experience that day. For example, as you are walking or driving over to the party, have your child name all the things that are a circle, or you sing a song that spells out things, including his name. Invite your child to holler out when he hears his name spelled.
Establishing and keeping consistent routines during times of change helps children feel safe – they know what to expect every day. It also strengthens their brains and memory skills. By adding consistency to the day, children will begin to count on and look forward to what comes next.