How To Manage Transitions, Separations, and Changes That Occur During the Holiday Season
In our Mindful Parenting Groups we regularly explore what members might feel when they return to their group after a long holiday break, when they miss a group, when one of the facilitators are absent, a new member joins the group or a beloved member leaves the group — or even how hard it is for our children to manage transitioning from one segment of the group’s activities to another. Our groups are kept intentionally small so that we can be curious about these finer, and more-subtle emotions, and to notice how these changes, transitions, and separations may trigger negative behaviors in children. When we are curious about these various experiences we may notice how deeply changes, separations, and transitions affect all of us — especially at this time of year. The holidays often bring up surprising feelings of loss, loneliness, abandonment, anxiety, depression or the pain of the memory of someone no longer here – in addition to the many joyful moments we anticipate having with loved ones. These emotions usually remain under the radar because there is a good deal of pressure “to be jolly” at this time of year.
Yes, not everyone feels jolly during the holidays — and it makes it worse when you believe you’ll be a burden to others if you tell them that you are not doing well. Your children may not know how to express their confusion and unhappiness either during these supposedly happiest of times. They need you to decipher the “code” of childhood communications. Through the tools of observation, reflection, and narration we can do this. We can be more empathic to our own and our children’s sensitivity to and discomfort with all the changes that the holidays bring with them. They need us to adequately prepare them for the relatives and friends suddenly appearing, for the change in mom and dad — maybe mom is anxious to make a good impression or dad isn’t used to the change in his workday schedule and feels a bit disoriented — and to allow time for discussion about all of it. Allow time for transitions from one activity to the next or from one relative to the next! When children sense that their parents are distracted or anxious, they may react negatively without even knowing why. It’s the parents’ job to understand the root cause of these behaviors and to manage them with empathy.
At the same time, it is a useful time to practice self-compassion. Most of us have a tendency to regress to old family roles when we are reunited with our families of origin—that of the peacemaker, the quiet one, dad’s favorite, and so on — so be kind to yourself and others, slow things down (including expectations), and reflect mindfully…
…and may your holiday be filled with much joy and laughter.
Deborah and the Well Baby Center Family
Deborah Groening Rother is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), and Certified Infant-Parent Mental Health Specialist. She is also the Clinic Director of Well Baby Center.