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Help children avoid Christmas emotional breakdowns

The Christmas season is an exciting time for children – perhaps a little too exciting at times. Christi Bergin, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at the University of Missouri, shared advice for making the holidays go a bit smoother for families.

“First of all, I want to say I love the holidays,” she told Missourinet. “I don’t want to just focus on the negatives. They create great memories for us. They draw families tighter together. But they can also be pretty disruptive.”

Bergin said kids don’t have enough self-regulation to manage all of that emotion. That’s why you might see temper tantrums at birthday parties, for example. She gives some suggestions to help kids keep their emotions in check.

READ: Spotlight on loneliness at Christmas

“Minimize the gift giving,” Bergin said. “Kids just need a couple of gifts. They don’t need to be overwhelmed by a dozen gifts. We can also make sure that they have a little bit of downtime to help them get that excitement under control. And also, we have to manage the issue of disappointment — that you don’t always get everything that you want in the gift department. We can talk with kids about realistic expectations and also how you need to appreciate what you have.”

The holidays often include a lot of change. Traveling might be involved, and family might be in town to visit. Change can be difficult for some kids.

“Even something like moving the furniture to accommodate this pine tree in the house or something,” she said. “You know, those kinds of changes cause anxiety in children. Little children don’t even like it when mom and dad sit in the wrong chairs at the dinner table. They really like their routine and having their expectations.

“So you can help with that anxiety a little bit by kind of giving them a pre-expectation, like `this is where we’re going to go, and here’s what it’s going to be like.’ With really small children, one of the most important things you can do is bring their security blanket or their stuffed animal or whatever their attachment object is that they find comfort from.”

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice

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