It’s that time of year again…winter holidays. If you have a little creature of habit at home, you might find school holidays are super tricky for them thanks to the break in routine. As a result, you might see ‘meltdowns’ and non-compliance. Here are some ideas (adjust to suit your child’s age) that might help minimise difficult behaviours:
- Increase structure. Plan a few days in advance and communicate the plans clearly to your child. Use a visual schedule, diary or calendar to show your child what the plans are each day.
- Be wary of overload – try to consider what might overwhelm you child and steer clear. For some kiddos this means only scheduling one outing per day and keeping some ‘home’ time for sensory play or unwinding. It might mean staying home every second day. For others it might relate to where you go and what you do – is going to the noisy swimming pool on school holidays going to be sensory overload for your child? Or does swimming in the water regardless of the environment calm him or her? Reflect on your child’s needs and work within their capacity.
- Consider control – when the routine changes we can feel out of control and this can lead to feelings of anxiety. Give your kiddo some control within your limitations. Giving lots of ‘choice of two’ options throughout the day really helps with this – i.e. “do you want to wear your gumboots or your runners?” or “do you want to help me make cookies or play in the sand?” or “do you want to eat dinner at the big table or the little table?”.
- Set up rules and rewards. A great way to increase structure whether you are at home or out and about. Be clear about your behavioural rules/expectations (the usual culprits are ‘nice talking, keeping hands to self, following instructions’ etc.) and the benefits of following them whether they be the logical consequence (i.e. “people will want to play with you if you are polite to them”) or an extrinsic reward (i.e. “each time I see you talking nicely today I’ll add a star to the reward chart. When you have 3 stars you can watch an episode of Peppa Pig”). Always pair tangible rewards with praise as you want to avoid falling into the reward trap.
A final word – remember to consider your child’s emotional needs when they are being a little tricky. Try to work out what they need from you. And remember that tricky behaviours often arise from feeling overwhelmed or anxious in which case your child will need a helping hand to regulate his or her emotions.
Enjoy the holidays!
Amanda Abel – Paediatric Psychologist MAPS