Helping Kids Self-Regulate During the Holidays

School break, seeing family we might only see once a year, staying up late, presents, travel, holiday events, new experiences, and did I say… presents!

That is a lot of energy and emotion to manage.

And kids are still in the process of learning self-regulation skills

The holiday season can lead to more meltdowns, anxiety, power struggles, and bouncing-off-the-walls high energy.

“It (self-regulation) is a set of skills that enables children, as they mature, to direct their own behavior towards a goal, despite the unpredictability of the world and our own emotions.” – Child Mind Institute

So, what are some ways we can help kids self-regulate during the holidays?

Accept and Commit to What Is

When we hold tight to an ideal vision or our expectations, we are actively sustaining whatever we want to release.

Based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, focusing on accepting our experience, as it is, allows the space for things to change.

When you think about your holiday season, what can you accept and commit to?

My family loves playing games and some members, including myself, can get caught up in the competitiveness which inevitably leads to griping, irritation, and sometimes arguments.

So this year instead of wishing things were different, I can commit to people getting irritated with one another when we play games.

Acknowledge the Challenge of Self-Regulation and Co-Create a Plan

I talk a lot about normalizing kids experiences. It’s so important to say to them that self-regulation can be hard.

Sometimes we don’t want to wait or be quiet or take turns. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable to be around a family member we don’t see very often.

Every child is different. When you think about which situations challenge your child’s current ability to self-regulate, what comes up?

Is it sitting still for a long family meal?

Or maybe it’s when their sibling tries to play with their favorite new present?

Or is it when they have to talk to Great-Aunt Sally who they rarely see and they have no idea what to say?

Identifying times when self-regulation might be harder and talking with your child ahead of time, co-creating a plan, is essential for navigating the more predictable challenges.

Allow Time to Let Go

Whatever it looks like for your kiddo…being rambunctious, quietly reading, or playing a video game.

There are going to be many natural opportunities for kids to control themselves over the holidays. Creating space where they can let go and be under-controlled is just as valuable.

When we do this, we’re helping kids learn to choose when their self-regulation skills are needed and when they’re not. (It can also help release any pent up energy or stress!)

What can you do to create moments of letting go and simply being without expectations throughout the holidays?

Let’s adjust our expectations around the holidays and assume that kids are going to have a harder time self-regulating.

Instead of responding solely to their behavior, let’s acknowledge that they’re trying to navigate an overstimulating environment, they’re practicing the self-regulation skills they have, and sometimes they may lose control.

During those moments, let’s model and be their self-regulation.