Modeling appropriate behavior during the holidays

Holidays are a wonderful time of year! True or False? I guess I love the holidays but yes, trying to get it all done can be so stressful and for those of us who care for young children or are parents of young children the stress can sometimes be even greater! We so want to enjoy this time with our little ones but sometimes the decorating, gift buying, cooking and baking, Christmas cards getting sent out, etc. can be pretty overwhelming. And many times we forget to stop and think about what this time is all about … spending quality time with family and friends.

The phrase “Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them leaves an impression” (Dr. Haim Ginott) is one that truly states the obvious; whatever you do or say in front of your children will leave a lasting impression on them. When we thank the grocery boy for wheeling out our groceries, when we are driving or waiting in line and let someone go ahead of us, when we give a small gift to the mailman at Christmas, or let those who care for our children know how much we appreciate them, we are making an impression on our little ones and “modeling” good behavior. Though many of us may think they aren’t paying attention, believe me, they are! My little 2-year-old granddaughter mimics almost everything everybody says. If I say “thank you” to someone, she says it too. If I thank her, she says “you’re welcome Grandma”, so when I get frustrated with a slow driver and start “talking” about terrible drivers, well she notices and repeats that too. Remember, they are always watching us.

I think so many of us get way too hung up on making sure everything is as close to perfect as possible. I have figured out that if I buy delicious all ready made cookies, the kids and grandkids really don’t care; and I haven’t spent hours doing something I really don’t care to do … I’m a cooker not a baker! And if all the decorations aren’t perfectly hung, they really don’t notice that either. What they WOULD notice is if I was exhausted and grumpy when they come to visit, not something anyone wants to experience. Taking a few extra minutes to play a game, to let them help wrap a gift for the neighbor who has no family, singing Christmas carols in the car or go out and do some sledding before mealtime; those are the things they notice; not if I got all the dusting and laundry done. Order online if possible, cut back on a few decorations until they are old enough to help, and let the Christmas cards go out when they are done (even if it’s after Christmas, I like getting them anytime); taking time to have fun with them will be what they remember!

Teaching children charity is also important. Children don’t always realize what they HAVE, sometimes they focus on what they DON’T have, as do adults many times. Having them help pick out a gift for child who would otherwise not have any; having them help take food to a local food bank; watching you put coins in the tin; these are all good ways to model to your children that we sometimes need to help our fellow man when they are down and out; and show them how good it feels by smiling when doing it.

Our stress also impacts our child’s level of stress. By developing coping skills to help you manage job-related stress and talking about stress with young children helps them learn to manage their feelings in healthy ways and to use play to reduce anxiety. Children learn what they live. When we demonstrate healthy ways of dealing with anger, sadness, envy, and other emotions, we teach children positive alternatives to negative behaviors and violence. Children are little sponges that soak up everything. So think before you speak, count to 10 if someone is irritating you, and think about a better way to handle a situation, especially when your little ones are watching.

Caring for young children is emotionally and physically demanding work for caregivers and parents. Recognizing stress-related symptoms like tension headaches, neck and shoulder strain, irritability, digestive troubles, and frequent illness is essential to changing your lifestyle. Learning new strategies for managing time, space, and people will benefit both you and your children. Exercising, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, having some “me” time, etc. are essential for keeping us healthy, mentally and physically. These focus on prevention instead of intervention which is always the best strategy. Anger directed at children and physical abuse are more likely to occur when caregivers and parents are experiencing high levels of stress. So take a few minutes and think about how you can decrease the stress, especially at this hectic time of the year. And make the holidays the joyous time they are meant to be!

Sue Junge is an Early Childhood Support Specialist for the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area and is a Thursday columnist for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. For more information, please visit