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SALT LAKE CITY — The holiday season is an exciting time for children. The weather turns colder, there are breaks from school and, of course, more sugary treats. So how do you keep a routine while running from one family gathering to another? Do you even need a routine during this time of year?
Yes! You do need to keep your routine during the holiday season, even though it may be more difficult. Children might fight a routine initially, but it is actually very comforting having one in place.
For example, think about going to work. If you went into work every day having no idea what you were going to do that day or what was expected of you, it would provoke anxiety. Children are the same way. If they know generally what to expect and what is required of them, it reduces anxiety and increases the likelihood you will get the positive behaviors you are looking for.
It seems that it takes two weeks to get over the hump of forming a new routine or habit. However, a study about modeling habits by Lally & Jaarsveld 2009 found that it takes around two months (66 days to be exact) before a routine becomes automatic.
Sounds overwhelming, but by starting now you can create wonderful habits that will continue to get easier each time you do them. The next question parents may ask is, “What do I do while we are traveling for the holidays? I can’t control every detail of the trip.” It is true that some things are out of parents' control, but here are some helpful tips to keep your routine during this busy season.
1. Keep as much of your routine as possible
You can’t control if your flight is delayed or you are snowed in, so the key is sticking to the parts of the routine you can control. For instance, perhaps every night before bed you read one of three books about Pete the Cat that your children can’t get enough of. Bring those books with you while you travel, and when bedtime comes around read one. It will remind your children of their normal bedtime routine and increase the likelihood of getting them to sleep when the time comes.
2. Set up for success
We have all been there: 45 minutes into the Santa Claus line and your 2-year-old is melting down. Timing is everything here, so avoid nap times and hunger by scheduling accordingly and bringing snacks.
3. Quiet time
The demanding holiday schedule can create anxiety and tension. So as part of your holiday routine, make sure to schedule quiet/alone time for children and yourself. This is usually a nap, but at least give everyone some time to relax and unwind from the busy day.
4. Lead by example
Children look to their caregivers to know how to react in a situation. The holidays are no different. If you are calm and remain confident that your routine works, it raises the chances that your children will be calmer as well.
We can get stuck in a thought pattern of where we have to be and what we have to do. Make sure you are taking the time to play; skiing, sledding, snowshoeing or building a snowman are wonderful activities. When playing with your children make sure you are 100 percent in the moment with them. No worrying about grocery store or to-do lists during this time. Truly have fun with them and enjoy the holiday season.
Jessie Shepherd, MA, ACMHC, is a specialist in helping children, adolescents and parents overcome life's challenges. She practices at Life Stone Counseling Center's Salt Lake County location. Learn more about her by visiting www.lifestonecenter.com/Jessie-Shepherd.php.