This article was previously published on Atrium Health's Daily Dose
The holiday season can be full of memory-making and merriment. But between travel plans, class parties, last-minute shopping, and sensory overload, it can also be the season for burnout and chaos. The team at Atrium Health Levine Children's shares a few ways to help your child maintain some structure so you can all keep the peace and find some holiday harmony.
Though the holidays can be happy, they can also be hectic. Weeks of traveling to visit family, eating different foods, overstimulation and lack of sleep can really shake up a kid's routine…and make you feel like you are grasping for normality like tiny grains of sand. This can leave you all too tired to enjoy the festivities of the holidays.
Changes in routines, even if they are well-intentioned, can impact a child's mood, behavior and development. Atrium Health Levine Children's shares a few ways to help your child maintain structure in their days – even amidst one of the busiest times of the year. (In fact, this may be the time children crave a routine the most!) There may be chaos (okay, there will be chaos). But with a little mindfulness, you can make it organized chaos.
Pack a Piece of Home
Comfort items like the blanket, stuffed animal, book or pillow that your child treasures can help them feel grounded in a new environment. If you're sleeping away from home, a sound machine or fan that your child typically sleeps with can provide some familiarity. For infants or toddlers, you can bring your own pack-and-play for bedtime or call ahead and see if a crib will be available where you will be staying.
Make Sleep a Priority
Sleep is, of course, an important piece of a child's development, but missing a little sleep here or there won't be detrimental. However, making sleep a priority and not deviating too much from your child's nap and bed times will certainly make for a more enjoyable day for the whole family. Sticking to age-appropriate nap and bed times leads to well-rested children who are ready for a fun day.
Support Healthy Eating Habits
When it comes to food, it may seem like all bets are off during the holidays. But you can support your kids in making healthy choices by keeping normal eating routines, paying attention to fullness cues, offering plenty of fruit and vegetable options with each meal, and finding creative ways to stay moving.
Andrea Lockard, a pediatric dietitian at Atrium Health Levine Children's Healthy Futures, says good nutrition helps kids and teens perform better in activities, have more energy and feel better inside and out. But don't sweat the small stuff. Your child doesn't need a "perfect" diet to be healthy.
"There's no perfect diet, especially when life becomes hectic," Lockard says. "Be easy on yourself. Have meal options for hard days, but also push to provide a balanced meal — including different food groups and a colorful plate — for dinner most days."
Aiming to have at least one solid meal per day with a mix of protein, fruits and vegetables is a great practice, and throwing in a cookie for dessert is okay too. Moderation is key. Also remember that kids often like to model adults in their habits, so aim for a colorful plate yourself to help expand your child's palate.
Tame Screen Time
Although screen time can serve as a good learning tool and video chats allow us to connect with loved ones, Gracie Crowder, family nurse practitioner with Atrium Health Levine Children's Shelby Children's Clinic reminds parents that screens do not need to be used to distract a child. reminds parents that screens do not need to be used to distract a child.
"Too much screen time can hinder children and adolescents' ability to use their imagination," Crowder says. "We need to remind parents that it is okay for children to not have a tablet or phone in their hand at all times, and that being bored is okay."
Crowder acknowledges that in real life, limiting screen time can be hard. She suggests encouraging kids to get outside whenever possible. If you are traveling, new towns are a great place for a walking scavenger hunt (find the coffee shop with the best hot chocolate or find the house with the best holiday decorations). If your holiday traditions include gift giving, consider items that keep your kids active like bikes, basketballs and other sports equipment. And if the weather is not conducive to being outdoors, reading a book, working on a puzzle, playing a board game or doing a craft project are great indoor activities.
If holiday plans include flying or a long car ride, consider packing some coloring books and crayons for younger children or some playing cards and word search books for older children. And don't be afraid to immerse yourself in their play. Try engaging the entire family with sing-a-longs, or simple games like "I Spy" and finding cars with a license plate from every state.
Of course, passing time on an extremely long trip can be extra challenging and may leave you wanting to reach for the tablet. Don't be too hard on yourself. Screentime in moderation is acceptable, but aim to allow it in small increments, like the last 30 minutes of the trip.
Prioritize Time Together
Even if you are all running in five different directions, designate time to do fun activities together – especially if they help reinforce family traditions. Get your kids on board by involving them in the planning and pick something you can all look forward to. Find ways to serve your community together, go for a walk to the playground, make a meal together, have a dance party, read out loud to each other, pick a room in the house to decorate or tell each other silly stories by the fire. Just a few minutes spent together can strengthen your bond and help kids feel less anxious.
Consistency is Key – But Keep it Simple
Maintaining healthy routines doesn't have to feel like a complicated undertaking. Just having a few recurring tasks to help anchor you and your kids each day can help you stay on track. These touchpoints can bring comfort and consistency that signal the brain that something familiar is happening. Which makes your kids (and you!) feel more grounded. Outdoor play, nap time (or "quiet time," for older kids), bedtime routines and specific meal days (taco Tuesday, pizza Friday, pancake Sunday) can make things feel more predictable. You can adjust as needed but try to keep recurring activities throughout the day that kids can count on.
Even if things get a little off track this holiday season, being present with each other and enjoying the little things is always a win. So, take a deep breath …you've got this.
For more ways to help your child thrive, find an Atrium Health Levine Children's pediatrician near you.