3 Skills to Practice Before Christmas Arrives

We are just a few days away from Christmas, so I wanted to post a quick note to remind parents to practice some skills before the difficult holiday moments arrive.  Children of all ages and abilities struggles with some of the big moments of the holidays, but helping prepare children through discussion and practice can make these moments less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone.

Here are 3 of the most common holiday moments that can be a struggle:

child waiting

Waiting is really hard for children

1. Waiting to open presents.

Waiting is hard.  For children, especially children with disabilities (such as poor impulse control or self-regulation), waiting can be really hard.  Waiting to open presents is a great way to build impulse control skills, but it often ends in tears (or parent giving in).  Discussing the problem can help.  Make sure children know they will have to wait and when they will be allowed to open presents.  Acknowledge that waiting is hard and offer to help with a distraction or timer if needed.  Practicing is also important.  Put out a few presents a few days early and practice not opening them.  Hold them, shake them, and make guesses, but don’t open them.  If this is too hard, practice wrapping up a familiar toy and wait an hour to open it (set a timer if needed).

Looking for more impulse control ideas?  Here is one of my popular posts all about impulse control development.


child opening gift

It’s a salad spinner! (no it really wasn’t)

2. Being disappointed when opening a present.

This problem is the fear of many parents.   We worry that our children will offend family and friends when the present they open isn’t the perfect gift they imagine.  Handling disappointment is a skill that takes a lot of emotional maturity, self-regulation, and impulse control.  Discussing ahead of time can help many children.  Talk about the series of events in present opening and the expected behaviors, such as saying thank you or waiting your turn.  Bring up many possible scenarios and how the child might feel and how they might behave (help your child separate out feelings from behavior).  This is also a great chance to talk about how the other person might be feeling.  Some children really need to practice this skill ahead of time.  Set-up a pretend scenario and open pretend presents together.  Brainstorm kind things to say for both wonderful and boring gifts.

Looking for more ideas about teaching children about emotions and self-regulation?  Helping Children Learn About Emotions


Child crying

The inevitable meltdown at the wrong moment.

3. Sitting through long, boring events (such as a big family dinner or long church service)

It doesn’t take much for a child to get bored at an event.  Even 15 minutes can seem like an eternity to a child.  Children often just want to be allowed the freedom to move or play, but the holiday events often don’t allow this freedom.  While adults may be very engaged in the event, children are often bored and unsure of the significant of the events.  It helps to explain to children ahead of time the event, including what will occur, how long, and the expected behaviors.  However, simply explaining it does not mean your child is capable of being still and quiet for extended periods of time.  Set reasonable expectations and make reasonable compromises (bring with small toys for example).  This skill is much harder to practice ahead of time, but you can practice how you will interact with your children when they need help.  Parents and children can make a plan together about what they can do when they are bored or need a break, and this plan can be practiced.

Remember, children often need a “break” rather than a “time-out” when behaviors start to occur during holiday events.  Changing from “Time-Out” to “Take a Break”

Looking for other ideas to help through the holidays?  

Paige Hays is an occupational therapist who provides in-home, pediatric occupational therapy services in the south metro area of the Twin Cities, MN. She is a mother of 2 girls, avid DIYer, and a highly skilled and experienced OT. She specializes in working in pediatrics, with diverse expertise ranging from cognition and sensory issues to working with children with neuromuscular disabilities or complex medical needs.  www.paigehays.net