All you will ever hear from an “expert” on what kids need, is consistency, structure and routine.
-From the Experts at Open Doors
Consistency, structure and routine! But wait a minute….it’s almost Christmas and Uncle Ronny has invited your family to his house with all the rest of the extended family for an old-fashioned family Christmas. If there is nothing else in the world that is less conducive to consistency, structure and routine, it’s a family gathering over the holidays. Not only that, but your toddler has just finished toilet training, and your older child came home from school with a note saying that he bit his 5-year-old friend at Kindergarten the other day. Meanwhile, the oldest sib “will just die if I can’t see my friends over Christmas!!!”.
What’s a parent to do? The drive is five hours to Ronny’s and there is no way of knowing what or where you will be staying when you arrive. On the other hand, Ronny and his wife are always good to the family and you haven’t seen them in so long.
Before making the agonizing decision to go or not, there are some concrete and practical items to think through first.
The kids will probably be interested in three main things: what will we do in the car; where are we going to sleep and who will be there? The adults will also be interested in the sleeping arrangements so a call to Uncle Ronny and Aunt Mable may be in order to learn more about these details.
Kids appreciate knowing what they are about to get themselves into, so the more you know before hand is better. You can provide a small bit of anxiety relief if the kids know what to expect. If possible, give them a detailed description (or better yet, pictures) of where they will sleep, what their bed will look like and whether they have to share a room. They will also benefit from knowing more about who will be there (if possible); as kids are more enthusiastic about an event if they anticipate seeing another loved one and feel that fun will be involved.
Some very smart people have called the car a “jail”. You are all in the car together, there is no escape and looking out the window holds a certain charm for only so long. One word….research. Find something fun to do to occupy their time. Kids who are bored make everyone know it.
The kids will also want to know what activities they can look forward to while visiting. Tobogganing on that great hill down the street, a family gathering at the local rink…. The effort put into arranging these activities will be worth it and will go a long way to ensure that you all have an enjoyable trip.
Knowing what to expect realistically from your children from a developmental point of view is probably the most helpful piece of information for you to rely on. For example, if you understand how vitally important your daughter’s friends are to her, you can give her some assurance that you are aware of this and will make it up to her. It is helpful to know that biting can be an age appropriate (albeit aggravating) behaviour often used by toddlers to get more attention. And if you are establishing a routine with your toddler around toileting, it would be in everyone’s best interest to make these issues as normal as possible.
Bring toys and belongings that make the kids feel safe and comfortable. Chat with your five-year old and tell him that you would like to spend some time with her/him over the holidays and that you look forward to that. Present your eight year old with invitations to a slumber party that you are going to have after the holidays and get home in time to have one.
Remember too that the five-hour trip to Ronny and Mable’s is not the kids’ idea and they don’t have much say in the decision to go. They will also have to share their most important people- you- with others and some kids find that hard, especially if they aren’t used to being with large groups of people.
The other acceptable option for anyone is to decline the invitation if there are any reservations about what will happen, who will be there or if it is in the best interest of your family.
For further information, please call Open Doors at 283-8260 or 1-877-232-8260 (in Smiths Falls and Perth) or 257-8260 (in Carleton Place). Please note Open Doors will be closed from December 25th until January 3rd this year.
The Board, management team and staff of Open Doors for Lanark Children and Youth wish you a safe holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzaa and all the best in the New Year!