SOS! December is here… (how to help your children stay grounded)

By Jet Sichterman

You may have noticed by the cold weather outside, by the frosting on your car in the morning, by the full trains or extensive traffic jams in rush hour, by the advertisements in your mailbox or by the big to do list waiting for you at home and at work. Or, you may have noticed by the volume of your children’s voices as they are busy doing anything they are not supposed to do while you frantically try to set things straight but they simply won’t let you.

Yes, indeed, December is here.

December seems to have a special influence on children. All that was normal is suddenly not so normal. All that was routine suddenly does not apply or has been forgotten. Anticipation and nerves are building up for the holidays… And while you have no tools at your disposal to contain or express these emotions in appropriate, adult ways, this is exactly what the adults around you appear to be expecting of you.  All of this can lead to more loud, active and possibly oppositional behavior (and the flu!) in the weeks before the New Year.

So what does your child really need from you in this time?

Your child needs you to:
– Stick to the normal rules and routines as much as possible:
The more ‘normal’ things can stay, the more normal your child will be able to go through the month of December. Of course it is often hard to stay on track with regular routines with holidays here and there, events for you at work or with your friend group, you needing to do Christmas shopping, etc.

When things cannot remain the same, it will help your child to stick (as much as possible) to regular bed times and routines during the week so they can be well rested. It will also help them to know that exceptions are going to be made; your child wants to know how, when and why these exceptions are taking place.

– Be proactive
Instead of waiting for the trouble to start, your child needs you to be proactive about things. Provide for extra preparation and support for usual and not-so-usual tasks, allow extra time for usual tasks and routines to be completed, or actively decide to let some of the demands placed on your child go – and get back to them in January.

– Create a safe space when your child is experiencing a meltdown
Your child needs you to understand and accept that he/she feels emotions more intensely this season than others. He/she needs you to allow him/her to express these emotions now and then, and to be there for him/her when this happens.

Your child also very much needs you to understand that your own emotions might be more intense too, or that you might feel more stressed than usual. Your emotional experience directly and indirectly influences your child’s emotions.

Your child also needs you to remember that experiencing emotions is part of being human.

– Stay patient and calm, if you can
This might be the hardest step of all, but it will certainly help.

For example, parents who feel stressed about everything they still need to do before Christmas are likely to respond less patient when their child misbehave. And when this happens, the child who resonates with the parent’s feelings will be more likely to show oppositional behavior. It then becomes very easy for the child and the parent to enter a negative spiral from which a small thing eventually ends up in a big shouting match.

Remember, it will only be one month before things start getting back to normal!

Expat Child Psychology wishes you a happy holiday season
and best wishes for 2019!


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Getting back to Normal

Getting back to normal - family routine

The last months of the year can be a bit overwhelming for parents and children alike. There is so much to do, so much to see, hear and experience. First came fall break. Then Halloween. If you’re living in the north of the Netherlands you may have celebrated Sint Maarten, and less than a few days later Sinterklaas arrived. He barely got back to Spain before your child’s classroom was decorated for the Christmas celebrations. Then winter break came all it’s festivities…

A time which can be unsettling; the normal routines become more flexible, both in school and at home. Children can become more restless, jumpy and disobedient. And nervous; ‘what presents will I get this year?’.

Getting back to Normal - New Year 2016
But now it’s all passed us, and it will take almost 5 weeks before the next festivity. Phew! Time to get back to normal!


Here are some suggestions that may help you getting back to normal:

  • Review the rules and routines in your home; are they still relevant in the New Year? Is there still a good reason for having the rule or routine the way it is? Does your partner agree with you?
    When you have a good reason for having a rule or routine, it will be easier to convince yourself and your child to stick to it.
  • Reflect on the last year, what went well – parenting wise – and what would you like to change?
    If you have made any parenting resolutions for the New Year, ask yourself if you can implement the change in the form of a routine or rule – that way it will be easier to remember them, preventing them from becoming a resolution again next year.

    When implementing a new rule or routine, be clear to your child about your new expectations and consider using visuals to remind yourself and your child. Visual methods have the extra benefit of not being personal – so you cannot be blamed for being a strict / stupid / boring / etc. parent if it is not you but the visual that reminds your child to do something.
  • Take it easy
    It is still winter time, it is dark early and you do not feel like going out in the cold anymore. Neither does your child. After all the excitement and stress of the last months, it is ok to slow down and spend more time at home the first month of the year. And it will help you get back to normal!
  • Expect some pushback
    After all these fun times with more flexible routines; staying up later than normal, getting presents, not having to go to school or elsewhere, and enjoying time with family, getting back into the routines of daily life can be disappointing and is certainly less fun than not having the routines. As a result, there may (will) be some pushback when you first start to reinstall normal life. Remember that in the end, ‘normal’ will be better for your child’s development and overall wellbeing, their feeling of safety, and – not unimportantly – your own sanity.

Need some help getting back to normal? Let us know if you just want to talk things over or if you would like to get some in debt suggestions!