Avoid Holiday Burnout

Children love the holidays -- sometimes a little too much. How do you avoid overstimulation and celebration burnout?
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Visions of sugarplums make us think of the holidays as children's celebrations. Indeed they are, but it may be helpful to think of them from a 1-year-old's perspective. Your child is now on the borderline between babyhood and childhood -she is not yet able to regulate her emotions and cope on her own with the excitement and fatigue the holidays can bring. This doesn't mean you have to trade in your jingle bells for a Grinch suit, however. Small adjustments in your family's routine may be all that's necessary to help your child take the holidays more or less in stride.

The greatest holiday pitfall for your child is overstimulation: Too much of a good thing is an almost sure bet this time of year. Whether your youngster finds this season's celebrations overwhelming depends a lot on her temperament.

You are the best judge of how much your child can happily handle. If her good humor depends on her having a nap at 2 p.m., don't go out to buy a Christmas tree at 1:30 and expect smooth sailing. If your child is easily overwhelmed, ask family members invited for a celebration to arrive a few at a time, rather than all at once. You are the holiday gatekeeper. Structuring your plans and setting limits for yourself and the rest of the family will result in a celebration that your 1-year-old can enjoy.

Help your child stick to her regular eating and sleeping patterns as much as possible during this busy season. Compensate for occasional holiday goodies by giving her simple, nutritious meals at her usual mealtimes. Make sure that your child gets all the sleep she is accustomed to having, and on a normal schedule. If your child attends daycare or has a regular babysitter, stick to that routine, too.

Inevitably, your child will become overstressed at some point during the holidays. Follow these suggestions for unruffling your worked-up 1-year-old:

  • Take him out for a walk or a ride in his stroller. Even in cold weather, a breath of fresh air and a change of scenery will help both of you.
  • Take your child aside to a quiet corner and look at a book together. Choose one of his favorites-but skip the holiday stories to give him a break.
  • Give your child a long, warm bath. Better yet, take one with him. It'll relax you both.
  • Put your little one down for a nap. It may take him longer than usual to unwind, but it will give him the escape that he needs from all the excitement.
  • If you're the one who's stressed out, let someone else take care of your youngster for an hour or two. Trading off with a neighbor who has a child of a similar age will give both of you a break.
  • Make sure that your child isn't bored because he's the only one in the family without a holiday task. Give him a job of his own such as filling a basket with oranges or selecting cookies to put on a plate (as long as you don't mind how they ultimately look!). This can make him feel good about his contribution to the celebration.
  • If your child uses a pacifier or a "lovey," make sure it's nearby at all times. He can use these objects to calm himself when he's overstimulated by the festivities.
  • Sit down in a quiet place with your child and offer him a nutritious snack, like graham crackers and milk or fruit and cheese.
  • Plug in the tree or light the candles and sit quietly together in the dark, enjoying the glow.
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