Let’s face it, difficult if not downright horrid moments are going to arise when it’s time to visit friends and families over the holidays. The manners might go awry as fatigue, stress, and sugar are on the rise! The kids are going to whine, scream, sass, roll eyes, refuse to cooperate, and generally not give a shit that this event is “a big deal” in your family’s life (or at least that what it feels like:).
To make the most of your holiday time, it’s important to remember that your children will not behave perfectly. More important, this is the time to assess, prepare (and practice) and establish a plan for how you will respond when things don’t go as planned.
Here are 6 Tips for Managing Manners, Meltdowns and Mischief
1. Identify your Starting Point
What you see at home, is what you get in public
If you are under the impression that your little hooligans will magically turn into little darlings because you bring them out in public, do everyone a favor and toss out the rose colored glasses. If you indulge your children at home by giving in to their demands, they will expect the same treatment when you travel with them—and more. If you control them by yelling and using threats, they are smart enough, even at three, to figure out that you can’t and you won’t control them using those same strategies while you are in public, so this is their chance to exact revenge on you. No joke.
2. Plan Ahead and Practice
Time for training!
Kids need a crash course in table manners? Do they leave the table multiple times, play with their food, complain about what is served, and yell at their siblings? Time to start a new routine before you arrive at Aunt Gertrude’s for dinner.
- Have a conversation with the kids about their thoughts on table manners with examples from them.
- Choose one area to reform (such as table manners): “From now on, if you leave the table, it means that you are done eating and your plate will be removed. You will have another chance to eat at our next meal.”
- Follow through is crucial. Likewise, if children begin playing with food or yelling at their siblings, it indicates they are done nourishing their bodies and they may leave the table.
- Acknowledge the children when they begin incorporating these new skills into daily life. “I really look forward to dinner with you and catching up on your day.”
Once you feel like the training is moving along with this one area, you can move on to others. By working together now when the stress level is low and allowing the kids time to practice, you increase the odds of your kids sailing through upcoming visits like pros. Give it time. Be consistent.
For more tips on training, visit Timeline for Training.
3. Model and Acknowledge
Keep yourself in check and encourage
Model kindness and gratitude each day and show appreciation when your kids demonstrate kindness and gratitude. I call this “shining a spotlight” on the moments our children are revealing their best selves. Obviously this helps with much more than manners.
4. Keep Expectations Realistic
It’s likely your kids will misbehave at some point and it’s just as likely that you will handle it in a less than stellar way. It’s okay. Give yourself and your children the gift of being mere mortals, who from time to time act more like three-year-olds than their chronological age suggests. Trust me, a year from now it will either be a funny story or completely forgotten.
5. Take Cues from the Kids
Listen to them
Are they tired? Then leave the party early. Are they bored? Then find out how they would like to spend the hour layover in the airport. It is unrealistic to expect that kids can demonstrate self control and restraint for hours at a time, so be flexible, keep an open mind and support them by listening to them.
6. Identify Teachable Moments and Take the Time to Teach Later
Breathe now, talk later
When you find yourself in one of those “red zone moments,” confronted with a child who is acting in a way other than you would like, one simple tip is distraction. Do whatever it takes to move him away from the moment or the thing he is melting down about and worry about what caused it LATER. (The moment of chaos is not the time to teach your child.) No, this isn’t the same as giving in. This is about capturing the moment, recognizing that your child doesn’t have the skills or the maturity to deal with the situation calmly and understanding when the emotions recalibrate, you have a new area to work on with your child.
If you invite your children into the process and ask them to participate in identifying the expectations and offer them time to practice, you will find that those tough moments become fewer and farther between. Lose the expectation for perfectly behaved kids, invest in training, refocus the spotlight on the positive moments, and disengage during those messy moments.
Enjoy yourself. Leave the holiday visits with good memories and good information to build on for the next outing.