The holidays are a special time of the year. Families get together to celebrate and share in the joy of the season and social events abound, but this can also be a source of stress for parents whose parenting skills are suddenly put in the spotlight as children interact with adults and children. Parents already have enough on their plate, with buying gifts, cooking, cleaning, making lists and checking everything twice, and it can be a challenge to get children to behave appropriately when they are surrounded by festivities, family members and presents to be opened.
However, the holidays can also be a great opportunity to help improve your child’s social skills and teach the importance of being gracious. The key to success is to teach a few simple lessons in advance of events rather than to be “teaching” by correcting behaviors in a public setting when your child may feel humiliated and embarrassed. Just like anything else, preparation is key and it’s unfair to have expectations of kids without having ever communicated them.
In advance of each dinner, event or gift exchange, take five to ten minutes to teach the following simple lessons. It’s a small commitment (which during the holidays can seem like an impossible task), but I can assure you that the time investment will pay off in spades:
With any particular family gathering approaching (One to two days in advance or even in transit to an event), discuss the nature of the gathering, what will happen and the three things that you’d like to see from your child. It’s good to teach your child how to properly introduce himself, how to greet an adult and the value of saying “thank you for having me,” which are important pieces of advice that I’ve featured in the first chapter of my book, socialsklz:-) for SUCCESS. You can also talk about what types of greetings are appropriate for various events: a hug, a kiss or a handshake. Discuss how those simple steps will help make for an even more wonderful event.
Teach mealtime expectations. Rather than assume kids will “do it right,” have a mock holiday dinner party at your home and point out what you’d like (and would not like) to see while dining with family and friends. And if you have a moment, go through table settings, which is a really fun exercise for kids.
Help your child get out of the mindset of “me, me, me,” and receiving gifts by teaching them about the art of giving. Take the time to involve your child in the gift-giving process by working together on a list of gifts that he wants to give to his family, friends and teachers and going out to get them together. It’s easier for us as parents to go and do all of this for children, but some of the greatest joys of the holidays come from giving (crafting or purchasing, wrapping, and being thoughtful), not just receiving.
Role-play the exercise of opening gifts and what you’re expecting of your child while she’s opening a gift from someone. What if she loves it, already has one or doesn’t like it? What should she say in each instance? While you’re on the topic of gratitude, urge your child to express thanks for something that she was not necessarily expecting, or for something that isn’t a material object, like time spent with friends and family.
GIVE BACK…take some time to donate something, somewhere. The United States Postal Service offers Operation Santa where you can fulfill the wish of a needy child. One of the most valuable lessons we can teach is a lesson in empathy and thinking outside of ourselves. Help your child put himself in the shoes of the “giver” and let him experience the art and joy of giving.
For more information see the Today Show and Faye de Muyshondt on “How to Brat-Proof Your Child for the Holidays”