The Other Side of Christmas…

From Puddingstone Cottage

From Puddingstone Cottage

There is only one other time that is busier for me in my practice than November and December, and that is January and February. In January, consistently, I get several phone calls of concern for the behavior of children over Christmas. 'Is there something wrong with my child? I think we need help!'

I welcome these phone calls as it gives me an opportunity to provide guidance to parents whose primary objective is to raise a happy and healthy child. As well, it is an opportunity to invite families to prevent, intervene and help before patterns of behavior in both parents and children become a bigger issue.

From Puddingstone Cottage
I understand anxiety in children is presently at epidemic proportions. However, many of these kiddies are simply overwhelmed by Christmas! The concern is if there is a pattern of being overwhelmed over and over and over again, we can create anxiety in the developing brain of a child. Parents want to make sure they stop this pattern for themselves, their families and most of all, for their children.

Think about it now that Christmas is over. How overwhelmed and anxious do you feel sometimes about Christmas? Do you feel like you can't even think because of emotional overload? Are you able to soothe and calm yourself? What changes would you like to make for next year? Healthy adult brains are able to process the overload, calm, and problem-solve.  The adult brain is mature and has the ability to do this. The child's brain is still developing and does not have the same abilities. Adults have language and adult thinking and a child does not. Adults have some control over where they are going, when, where and why, and what will be happening when they arrive. If you don't have this control, and Christmas is anxiety-making for you, then this is a whole different discussion, and of course your child is following your lead.

Christmas can be challenging and hard for families with young children in particular. If we are grandparents, it is really helpful to understand this and to act accordingly. There are a lot of expectations placed on families to spend time travelling, sleeping in strange beds, and go without the daily routine and structure that children would have at home, daycare and school. The food we eat is different. The excitement of visitors, gifts are all fun, and sometimes it goes on for too long. Added to this, there may be differences in parenting styles between the generations which can result in tension. My guess is many Grandparents have not had to understand and deal with something as simple as a child not being able to go home to their own bed at Christmas. It is like throwing a pebble in the water. Just watch the ripple effect.

From Puddingstone Cottage

Yes, children are the emotional barometers of the family. Children pick up on the emotional tone, and anything too far out of their normal experience is a threat to their safety and security. This includes good stuff. Change their routine and away we go. Ask a preschooler in the middle of refusing to eat, go to bed, or play with a sibling what is wrong, and I can pretty much guarantee you will not get an answer that makes any sense. Thus the resulting phone calls to my office.

People often tell me they don't have patience for young children. I disagree. I think they have the patience, rather they do not have the knowledge to get success and intervene effectively. Here are some ideas which I have found helpful when young brains have been hijacked, and we all know what that looks like. I would also highly recommend the book: The Whole Brain Child by Siegel and Bryson. It is very helpful resource to nurture your child's development.

Preschoolers do not know what is wrong when having an emotional blow out. They just know how they feel, and they may not have the words to name it. When children's behavior goes off the rails, they need help to soothe and regain equilibrium. Help starts with emotional connection.

When a child is upset, connect first with the child emotionally, then you can name the identified upset while holding, soothing, and rocking them. When a child is presenting with angry and obstinate behaviours, I try to help them name the feeling under the anger and frustration. "It sounds like you are really sad, hurt, disappointed," Whatever emotions seems to best fit the situation. This helps to redirect the experience of the upset. It also teaches children to identify and discuss their feelings. This is a valuable life skill.

From Puddingstone Cottage

To get children in touch with their physical upset in their bodies, Ask questions such 'as are you hungry? Show me where it hurts. What do you think will happen when your cousin comes over tomorrow? Are you sad about this?' This helps your child to be aware of her internal world and body sensations and make sense of their experience in order to feel supported and more in control. This is not the time to play the "Bring your pyjamas here because I said so!" card, or to send a child to a room to figure it out. This will only enrage and not help a child to calm. They need your help.

Help the child to learn to breath. It is not too soon to teach breathing to relax.  By making it fun and breathing with the child, for example, placing a favourite toy on tummies and watching it go up and down and incorporating play with puppets. This can work wonders for changing the learning and disposition of a preschooler in meltdown. It also helps with the developing of your relationship, as well as calming yourself.

From Puddingstone Cottage

Lois is a graduate from the Department of Family Studies (MSc.) University of Guelph. She has over 30 years’ experience working as a therapist in many capacities, helping families and individuals negotiate life’s changes from infancy to old age. Lois is registered with (CRPO) The College of Registered Psychotherapists and certified with OACCPP (The Ontario Association of Consultants, Counsellors, Psychometrists and Psychotherapists) and is an internationally certified EMDR practitioner. She has recently returned to the area and runs her practice out of Puddingstone Cottage in Bruce Mines. Lois can be reached at 519-369-2662.