by Karen T. Bartlett
Our social season on the Gulfshore begins when family members arrive for the holidays and doesn’t slow down again until after spring break. While the grownups are deep into the stresses of planning fundraisers and social gatherings, dealing with increased business responsibilities, house guests and impending family visits, we sometimes forget that our children are facing their own stresses at school and with friends, all heightened by disruption of the family routine.
The staff of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collier County offers these tips to defuse stressful family situations and make the 2016 season the best ever.
1. NO CONDITIONS ON LOVE
Parents and grandparents often have different views on parenting. This can turn much-anticipated visits into tense ones. Everyone has heard lines that start like this:
“We will love you if you …”
“We love you because you…”
There should no condition on love. An adult can always say “I would appreciate it if you…”, or I love the way you….” But love for a child should never conditional. The best gift ever – better than any present you can bring – are the three words, “We love you!”
2. LET THEM MAKE MISTAKES AS THEY LEARN
Which of these lines is best?
a) “That way won’t work. Do it this way!” or b) “I see you’re having trouble. What could be another way to do it?”
Right! Give her a chance to figure out how to assemble, operate, or fix something. Unless safety is an issue, offer prudent guidance on age-appropriate tasks, and allow her to figure out a solution.
The pride she’ll radiate will leave a warm glow in everyone’s hearts!
3. APPRECIATE THE ATTEMPT. IT WILL GET BETTER!
Here’s another quiz. You already know the feel-good line, for both you and the child.
a) “Never mind, I’ll make the bed.”
b) “Good start, but can’t you do it a little neater?”
c) “You made your own bed! Great job!”
The correct answer actually is tougher than you think, especially if you take pride in neatness, but on a scale of one to ten, a badly made child’s bed is a zero.
4. LET GOOD FOOD BE ITS OWN REWARD
It’s a new world, where healthy dishes are increasingly artful and tasty. Come up with alternatives to your own parents’ lines, like this classic: “Yes, I hate Brussels sprouts too but they’re good for you.”
What’s in it for you? Kids who eat healthier foods and fewer sugared, chemically infused foods tend to have fewer physical and emotional issues, which affect behavior. National Institutes of Health studies show that children enjoy eating dishes they helped prepare. Even toddlers can wash fruit, and they absolutely love to stir ingredients!
5. MAKE GOOD MANNERS FUN
It’s never too early to introduce basic etiquette to the little ones. A bit of basic training works wonders at family dinnertime, too. Why not put together a dress-up lunch or patio party just for the kids, with real tableware and several courses? You can create fun ways (with prizes) to teach simple table manners. Or, sign them up for a class with a local childrens’ etiquette expert. Kids love them.
6. THE CHILDREN’S TABLE: POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE?
A gathering of compatible age cousins around their own table can be a super-fun tradition for some, but being separated from the rest of the family during already stressful times feels exclusionary to others. Consider mixing it up!
7. TREAT ACCIDENTS WITH COMPASSION
What kid doesn’t dread the humiliation of accidentally knocking over a glass of water?
The few minutes disruption will be forgotten, but the anger of a beloved adult sticks in the heart for a long time.
8. PACE THE EXCITEMENT
It’s hard to imagine a greater selection of activities and adventures than the ones throughout Collier County. We don’t want our children and grandchildren, especially out-of-town guests, to miss a single thing! But cramming it all into too brief a time span is a recipe for emotional meltdown (theirs and yours). Try balancing a high-energy morning with a gentle afternoon activity, and consider a day with no scheduled activities at all!
9. BE A SUPPORT TO FELLOW GROWNUPS
Post-holiday exhaustion, disappointment from unrealistic expectations, upcoming houseguest responsibilities and small factors like increased traffic on the roads are key triggers for child abuse. If you notice that one parent, grandparent or caretaker has reached the stress limit and is losing control with an overtired or over-exuberant child, try this magic line to the adult to defuse the situation:
“You must be exhausted. I don’t blame you! Why don’t I [take him for a walk] [read her a story] [take over bath-time tonight] while you have a break? ”
10. TAKE A NAP
We’re talking about you, the grownup. Don’t wait to max out on stress. Take a cue from nursery school: slip away for a daily fifteen minute power nap. It’s free, it feels good, and life seems a whole lot calmer when you wake up.