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Mama Drama: Making the Holiday Season Managable for Kids

Dear Mama Drama:

Last year I noticed that my daughter had a really difficult time managing her emotions and behavior during the holidays. She would fall apart at the store, family gatherings, and even at school. She is four this year so I’m hoping things will be better, but am wondering if there is anything I can do to help her handle things more smoothly?

~Hoping for smooth Holidays

(photo credit)

Dear Mama Drama:

The holiday season can be lots of fun with family to see, presents to buy, and events to attend. However, it is important to remember that preschoolers can be overwhelmed by all of the activity resulting in meltdowns, tantrums, and much less fun for all. As the busy season begins remember to:

Keep a regular schedule as much as possible. Waking up, eating, and going to bed consistently can make a huge difference for preschoolers. In addition, let her know ahead of time when the schedule is going to be different.

Create opportunities for down time and/or naps. Preschoolers can have tons of energy, but may not recognize or be able to effectively communicate when they are overstimulated or exhausted. Quiet time and naps help them to settle their nervous systems and recharge to a place where they can manage their emotions and behavior more successfully.

Limit the length of outings or set up an alternative activity for the kids such as a playdate or time with family. Hours at the mall, waiting in long lines, and driving from place to place are recipes for disaster in the world of most preschoolers. If you have to take her with you, have a plan, do it in short bursts, and bring something to keep her entertained while you shop.

Make sure kids get enough sleep. Tired preschoolers are cranky preschoolers. Remember that they need 10-12 hours of sleep every day. When they are short changed on sleep they’ll be short tempered as well.

Keep eating healthy. When you’re busy with lists of cooking, cleaning, and shopping to complete, it is easy to swing through the drive through more often than usual. Find ways to make healthy eating easy such as casseroles, one-pot or crock-pot meals, and easy fixes such as spaghetti or burritos.

Limit sugary treats. Holiday baking can be a fun family tradition, but over indulging in sugary treats can lead to big sugar crashes. Use moderation in what treats and sweets are available and how you balance them with the other foods she is eating.

Keep an eye out for early signs that a meltdown is coming and provide support to prevent it. Does your child get chatty, silly, whiny, agitated, stop listening, etc., when she’s tired? Try to notice the early signs of slight changes in behavior so you can prevent the meltdowns by offering more rest, something to eat, a run in the park, or a quiet place to just be.

Remember that behavior is how kids communicate what they need.  Stay tuned in to her needs and your holidays should be a much smoother ride.

Share your tips for riding the holiday roller coaster?

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential. Read more of Lisa’s parenting perspective at her Laughing Yoga Mama blog.

Mama Drama: Picky Eaters and Tall Tales

Dear Mama Drama:

My two-year-old won’t eat anything except macaroni and cheese. I’m afraid to give him other things because if he doesn’t eat it he’ll be hungry. I see other children, even younger than him, eating a wide variety of foods. I am amazed that they will eat things like tofu and vegetables.

How can I get my son to eat a wider variety of foods?

~Scared of starving

Dear Scared:

Many children have difficulty expanding their food choices once they have found a favorite food. Macaroni and cheese, PB & J, and mashed potatoes are common favorites. They may like the texture, smell, or associate a positive experience with that food. However, we have to offer them other foods on a regular basis if we want them to make other choices. Our job as parents is to provide healthy options for our children to eat, not to force them to eat it.

Children may need to try a new food several times before they develop a preference for it. Having a family rule that everyone tastes each type of food offered at a meal is a good way to start. Varying the ways that you prepare food can also make a difference. You don’t have to be a short-order cook, but cooking foods in a way that your child is more likely to eat them ensures a better chance of success. If your child doesn’t like slimy foods, don’t offer cooked spinach. Instead, offer him spinach salad with yummy cranberries or mandarin oranges and a sweet vinaigrette dressing. As parents it is important to model trying foods we previously disliked as well.

Sometimes children are more willing to try new foods if they can dip them in something familiar. Barbeque sauce, salad dressings, and honey are just a few choices that may make a new food more appealing for your child.

Some children (and adults) don’t like their food mixed or touching. To those of us whom this does not bother, it doesn’t always make sense. But rather than forcing the issue, simply use plates that have sections in them to separate the foods. It’s an easy fix that eliminates an unnecessary battle.

If your child misses a meal or two, he will be hungry but will not starve. If you have provided healthy, kid friendly food to eat and he has refused to eat, then you have done your job. Be sure you refrain from rescuing your child on these occasions by giving him the mac and cheese after he’s refused to eat other foods you’ve provided.

There are times when extenuating circumstances may be impacting your child’s willingness or ability to eat other foods. Some children have sensory processing issues that make eating different food textures almost unbearable. Others have very sensitive senses of smell that may cause them to avoid foods. Subtle reactions to unknown food sensitivities or allergies may also be an underlying reason. If you have concerns in any of these areas, please consult your pediatrician.

Dear Mama Drama:

I have a question about the blurry line between encouraging active imaginations and lying.  Lying is absolutely not tolerated and we have taken great measures to make sure that we never lie to our four-year-old daughter so that she knows that she can always trust what we say. However, over the last few months she has begun telling “stories” that are untrue, either in an effort to get out of trouble or just to gauge our reaction.

For example, she threw a tantrum in the car after school and reverted to her old standby of communication when she is angry with me- grunting.  We worked through the tantrum and later that night I tried to talk to her about how important it is for us to use our words when we’re angry so that we can work on the problem together.  Her response was, “I was just playing a game….I was playing grunt, grunt, who likes to grunt? And you lost, I won because I’m good at grunting.”

Creative, yes, and of course her delivery was impeccable and I wanted to laugh. However, I did not feel that her response was an accurate reflection of what happened and tried to explain how that she was not telling the truth and when she doesn’t tell the truth it is lying.

To me, always telling the truth is not a negotiable point, but am I overreacting? Where do we draw the line between imagination and untruth?

~Worried about overreacting

Dear Worried:

Lying is one of those issues that is a hot button for many parents. Being clear about telling the truth helps to foster that trusting and honest relationship you are trying to create with your daughter. Your commitment to always being honest with her is a great foundation.

That said, developmentally preschoolers are trying to figure out the difference between fact and fiction. Playing with storytelling is one way of testing out how it all works. When a child has gotten a positive response from the stories, she may tell more to get that response again – such as when you note your daughter is trying to gauge your reaction.

If it is a harmless silly story, feel free to play along with her and then end the conversation by saying something like, “Wouldn’t it be fun if that were really true. You have a great imagination!” This validates her imaginative skills, but also lets her know that you know this is fiction.

Common reasons children lie are because they want to avoid getting into trouble, they wish they had not done what they have, they engage in magical thinking that if I say it did not happen then it didn’t, and to save face in an uncomfortable situation. In the case of the grunting game, your daughter may have been trying to save face and deflect attention from the difficult feelings the situation produced. Admitting that she threw a tantrum may have felt uncomfortable to her and she may have been worried that she would get in trouble.

Using humor to deflect the situation is a great tactic, but it certainly presents a challenge for you as a parent. You can use the same type of statement as noted above to let her know you know this is a story and to avoid the loss of face that she may be fearing. Often it is enough to let your child know you are aware this is fiction in a gentle and light-hearted way without forcing her to admit it.

It can be easy to fall into power struggles and to overreact in response to lying. Taking a moment to view the situation from your child’s perspective can often help you respond with empathy and in a way that reinforces your beliefs about honesty. Using humor yourself can help to keep the situation lighter and allow your daughter the space to tell the truth.

Learning the value of honesty and trustworthiness is an important life lesson. Know that you and your daughter will have many opportunities to practice and clarify this as she grows.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.