Certified Child Life Specialist Katie Taylor and Child Psychologist Dr. Mary Goodarzi (both mamas and Piper + Enza contributors) share their perspectives on dealing with the big feelings that often show up for kids (and parents!) this time of year.
The Child Life Perspective
Katie Taylor, CCLS, Child Life On Call for Piper + Enza Inc
I’ve noticed that for me, the greatest joy during the holiday season is the anticipation of it all. Getting ready to decorate the house, thinking about baking Christmas cookies, deciding on the perfect gift for my family—these are the parts I love. The other thing I’ve noticed is that the actual events themselves – decorating the house, the mess from the Christmas cookies and shopping in a crowded store – falls short of those high expectations of mine.
In my experience of working with children and families over the past 12 years in the medical setting, I’ve also noticed that the build-up before an event can include a range of big feelings — usually different than what’s been expected. A joyful anticipation of being discharged from the hospital is followed by the sobering reality that now you’re on your own to care for your child. An upsetting anticipation that something will be painful may be followed by the realization that it really wasn’t that bad.
I bring up this thought of anticipation to encourage you to enjoy the joy during this holiday season whenever it shows up for you. Maybe that’s before the event, during or after. Our emotions ebb and flow and when you catch a glimpse of the joy in your child, like before the present is unwrapped. Notice that. Lean into that.
Prepare yourself that the present may not meet expectations and that’s ok. Look at the joy before and know that you and your child will find it again.
The Child Psychology Perspective
Mary Goodarzi, Clinical Child Psychologist for Piper + Enza Inc
The holiday season brings so much joy, excitement, adventure, experiences, and an overabundance of plans—along with so many BIG feelings.
We all have them, so why would it be any different for our children? I’ve noticed that kids’ sometimes “hard to manage” feelings are more triggering for us, as the parents, if we have an expectation of how the moment is supposed to pan out. Parents put so much time, thought, energy, and even money, to make each holiday activity/outing/experience be special for their child. Sometimes, this causes us to put so much pressure on the moment that it may trigger our child as they feed off of our energy.
As a Child Psychologist and a mom, I’ve seen myself in this very moment so many times, and often have to remind myself to take a moment to bring myself to the present and to just enjoy the moment—to allow my child to experience this moment, no matter how it may pan out. Once you are able to let go of the “imperfections”, and follow your child’s lead through her experience, you will then know how to navigate her genuine feelings as they arise.
With that being said, even if we are mindful of staying present as much as possible, our children will still have their very big, very overwhelming (at times), feelings. Most commonly, I hear parents asking me how to assist their child in being genuinely thankful for presents even if he/she may not like what they have received.
“How do I teach my child to be grateful for receiving a present, even if he doesn’t like it and expresses himself very loudly that he does not like it?” Of course, generally, responses vary by age, but in order for your response to your child’s words to be taken to heart, try to refrain from speaking to him about his behavior in front of others (family, relatives, friends, etc). Shaming our child, especially with an audience, will only hit their self-esteem, ego and affect their relationship with vulnerability (now that’s a different topic for another day!).
Instead, pull them aside, have a one-on-one conversation, role-play a more positive response scenario and how to apologize if an apology is warranted, and then head back into the group once you and your child are in the right headspace. It may be a good idea to practice and role-play different scenarios for upcoming gift exchanges to prevent some meltdowns. But the most important thing to remember, is that our children will have BIG feelings this time of year as will we—all we can do is navigate through the season together.
Happy Holidays Piper + Enza Family!!!
Katie Taylor is certified child life specialist, podcast host and CEO + Founder Child Life On Call, and a Piper+Enza expert contributor.
Dr. Mary Goodarzi is a Southern California-area child psychologist and a Piper+Enza expert contributor.