Photo credit: Media Bakery (RF)
The holiday season is magical in so many ways. Yet all the excitement, time with family, and indulgent treats can be overwhelming to your preschooler, especially when you’re gathered at the table for a special feast.
Special celebrations are thrilling and fun for your child, but they can also often disrupt his normal routine. Missed naps, hungry tummies, crowded houses and new foods can all contribute to temper tantrums for little ones.
Young children are happiest when they have routines and familiar schedules to follow. Children of this age are still learning their likes and dislikes, as well as how to express their emotions, but have little control over their own lives. A routine provides a sense of comfort because it helps preschoolers anticipate what is going to happen next and what will be expected of them.
Therefore, the trick to encouraging good behavior at your party lies in making the events a little less surprising for your child. Explain the day’s schedule and what is expected behavior-wise ahead of time. Also, practice polite mealtime behavior as often as you can at home so it feels more natural to your child.
Then, give your child his own stake in making the meal as successful as possible by inviting him to help plan, decorate, and make decisions about the celebration. If you involve him with the setup of a big family event, he’ll feel like an integral part of the holiday meal and be more apt to show off his good manners. After all, he won’t want to disturb something he worked hard to help make nice.
- Keep It Familiar. Bring along your child’s special stuffed animal to relax with if he gets overstimulated. Have a favorite food available (peanut butter crackers, yogurt) to substitute for rich holiday foods that might make him fussy.
- Prepare Ahead. Before the holiday, look at family photos so that distant relatives’ faces will be familiar and your child won’t feel intimidated talking with them at dinner.
- Role Play. Ahead of time, set the table with a light snack. Together, practice holiday dinner manners by using conversational tones and polite words.
- Develop a Signal. Rather than nag your child to stop moving his food with his fingers, arrange for a sign ahead of time (two raised fingers). Likewise, if he needs your help, he can give you the signal to rescue him.
Susan A. Miller, Ed.D., a veteran teacher, director, and author, is professor emerita of early childhood education at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.
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