Dear KID-EASE: My kids are in Kindergarten and second grade and have trouble at large family dinners for the holidays. They are some years with my Ex and other years with me. How can my Ex and I make those events more comfortable for the kids? It is a miracle, but my Ex and I are on the same page about this issue.
KID-EASE: Firstly, I want to congratulate you and your Ex for your working together to solve your children’s issues. This cooperative effort only can help your children grow without feeling the push and push of conflict between their two most beloved people in the world – Mom and Dad.
Holidays are stressful for adults too!! There are diverse unknowns that occur, people often eat and drink and can become hostile or loud and there is a great deal of over-stimulation especially if this is a family gathering that focuses on sugar and desserts which can work adversely on your children’s behaviors. Family members are not always comfortable with each other and kids pick up on these non-verbal resentments and you can see your children pulling deeply inside of themselves like turtles who need a protective shell.
Have you asked your children to pack a “Busy Bag” or “Comfort Bag” to bring to these events? Your children can choose one small toy, a pad and markers or coloring book, a book to read or look at, a special stuffed animal friend and best of all you can buy, on a site like Zazzle or at a Craft Store like Michaels, a plain cloth tote bag and 2 sets of fabric crayons. Upon arrival, your kids can begin to work on decorating their bags and writing their names on the bag which will help fill the time and relax their anxiety.
If there are other kids in attendance, you can facilitate play introductions and stay close by at first until you can slowly move further away. Staying near your children for a first big holiday dinner experience is going to help when the next big holiday rolls around. This time your children will be in the routine of packing their Busy Bags with excitement and anticipation.
P.S. You could always put a little surprise gift like sticker or an age appropriate little toy (magnets or Wooly Willy) in each bag. I wish you and your Ex the best and you must have a set of Busy Bags at each home.