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Have a Toddler-Happy Holiday!

Hello <<First Name>>

The holidays are upon us followed by the change of year.  As we say goodbye to 2018 and celebrate our holidays with family members or friends, I have a few tips for making this time of year with your toddler memorable and more enjoyable.

My children are older now, but I still get both excited and anxious as the holiday season comes into full swing. I love the sights, sounds and delicious smells of the holidays, especially all of the lights. But I can easily be pulled into our cultural pitch to buy more, do more, give, give, give and go, go, go.

If long gift lists and To-Do’s similarly elevate your excitement and stress level and detract from your ability to have fun (which is the whole point of this season!), take a deep breath and remind yourself that having the most elaborate decorations or finding the perfect gifts for people on your list is NOT what your toddler wants or needs. They want just the opposite. Positive and lasting memories are made for your toddler when you slow down, spend time together and focus on making loving connections and sharing intimate and often very simple moments. A few new traditions can make the holiday special for your child and family.
WHAT YOU CAN DO THIS HOLIDAY SEASON: Do Less! I mean this sincerely. The most joyful part of the holidays for your toddler is spending time with you. All the extras are just that—extra!

Keep it simpler. There is so much to see and do, but if you take on too much with your readily excitable and impulsive toddler, your efforts will likely backfire.

Try This: Rather than visiting countless relatives and friends, shopping for long stretches of time and spending hours in the kitchen baking, set simpler holiday goals. Your toddler will enjoy it more this way, and likely you will, too!

Visit Less. I know that feeling of being out of town and wanting to introduce your little one(s) to large groups of overjoyed family members who either haven’t yet met or seen your child since last year. The first time I traveled back home with my then-toddler, it was a near-disaster. I learned the hard way that a toddler who is dragged from place to place and paraded in front of countless, well-meaning family and friends will most definitely meltdown. It’s simply too much!

Try This: Do your best to simplify plans so your toddler doesn’t get overwhelmed. If you are spending the holidays out of town, set a goal to visit no more than two destinations and two small groups of people in a day. Even this can trigger a meltdown and if it does, consider inviting friends and family over to where you are staying so your toddler doesn’t have to move from place to place. This scenario is much simpler and easier on your child, and might even allow for a mid-day nap.

Let go of perfection. This one sounds so simple and yet it can be challenging for many parents, most of who just want to give their child a wonderful experience. The problem with chasing perfection is that it’s nearly impossible and also, your toddler will become a sponge for your anxiety and mimic your frantic mood. Watch out!

Try This: I discovered over many years that when you bring your expectations into line with the reality that you’re now a parent of a toddler or multiple children, letting go of perfection becomes an easier way to live for everyone involved. You will also likely discover that “good-enough” is still fully enjoyable to your child and better for you, too.

Maintain regular meal times and downtime—as best you can. Remember: your toddler thrives on predictable routines, so tantrums and crankiness are to be expected when a regular meal is moved or a nap is missed. Even five and six-year-olds can get quickly thrown off when their routine is changed.

Try This:  To help keep the merriment from crashing, consider stashing some snacks and small toys in your bag for when your child needs a distraction, a break from an overly packed relative’s house, or something to hold her over before the big holiday meal. And once you do get to the table and your young one suddenly cannot sit through more than a few bites, don’t be afraid to politely excuse yourself from the group and retreat into a quiet room. A little time-away for both of you is often refreshing, and if it’s not too late at night, you can return to the festivities. If you worry about upsetting a relative by doing so, I assure you that everyone will be happier if your toddler is not screaming during the holiday meal.

Honor Tradition. Create New. Traditions create a sense of security, build lasting memories and connect us to each other. Traditions vary and I’ve heard of so many over the years of working with families.

Try This:  Maybe you have a family recipe that has been passed down for generations that you can now pass on to your child.  Toddlers love to make a mess in the kitchen so making treats for neighbors, teachers, and friends can become a ritual that you continue together for many years to come. You can also create a new tradition or ritual for your growing family. You can adapt your traditions yearly as your children grow, and also start new ones that will become meaningful and lasting. For us, that meant adding a menorah each year when our children got old enough until each boy had their own menorah to light (with our help until they could do it themselves).  We now light three! Traditions can include decorating a tree together, making gifts, or even just going for a ritual holiday walk. For your toddler, the most joyful part of the holiday season is connecting with you. Your presence is your greatest gift.

Include your child in the celebration. Young children love to help and be part of the ‘grown-up’ activities. Whether it’s making simple ornaments, decorating cards, or helping to wrap gifts (for adults, as they may want to keep any child’s gift they wrap!), these child-friendly activities include your child in the celebration. These activities also teach your child the reciprocal feel-good effect of giving and receiving, and can help to take their emphasis off of the “gimmies.”

Fewer gifts. Embrace Fun. Finally, have fun! Spend these final days of the year enjoying the little moments as they unfold, one after the other. Limit the holiday running around as best you can, less presents for your child (truly, your child will be happier with a few small gifts or one bigger extravagance to focus on. Too many overwhelm them and take away the fun), less pressure on yourself to do-it-all and perfectly so, and keep your expectations at the appropriate toddler level. Remember, the more relaxed, present and connected you are with your toddler, the happier your child will be. So exhale, sleep when you can, and enjoy the time with your young one.  They won’t be little forever.

From my family to yours, wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season and new year.
And if you found this toddler-centric point of view on routines helpful, I encourage you to leave a comment or question on Facebook or Twitter.

For more toddler insight, visit HOW TODDLERS THRIVE and feel free to share what you've read here with other parents on the playground!

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