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  • Sarina Shirazee

Child behaviour at Christmas time

Imagine you’re learning how to play basketball for the first time. You keep shooting and missing the hoop. ⠀

Your loved one says, “You need to get the ball in the hoop.” ⠀

You say, “Yes, but how?” ⠀

They say, “You just have to otherwise I’m not going to give you your Christmas present”. ⠀

You shoot, you miss.⠀

You say, “Can you help me?”⠀

They say, “I’ll be so disappointed if you don’t get the ball in the hoop.”⠀

You shoot, you miss.⠀

You say, “What should I do differently?”⠀

They say, “I don’t think you’ll be able to come to Christmas this year.”⠀

That would never happen, right? Your loved one would just help you. ⠀

Kids’ brains are underdeveloped. When it comes to behaviour, they often don’t even have the words to say “Can you help me?” Or “I don’t know how”. They say this WITH their behaviour. They are “learning to play basketball” for the first time, and often we are expecting them to just do it because we said so, or at this time of year, because otherwise Santa won’t bring them a present, a fun holiday event will be cancelled, the Elf on the Shelf is watching, or they’ll go on the naughty list.⠀

The thing is, using these threats do not give a child the tools that they need to change. And sometimes we’re expecting change that their age and stage of brain development suggests isn’t possible. The threats do not do anything for a child but break down their connection and trust with the adult who has these expectations, and make them feel bad about themselves for not meeting them, when they literally can’t. It teaches kids that they are loved and accepted based on their outward behaviour, and that the way they behave is dictated by the rewards they receive. ⠀

Of course, a “well-behaved” child would make the festive season much easier for us, especially when we’re often under a lot of stress ourselves. However, as adults, we're the ones with the mature brains capable of emotional regulation and problem-solving (even though we won’t be able to do this 100% of the time), not our toddlers; not even our teenagers.⠀

I understand that a simple reminder that the Elf of the Shelf is watching can quickly make a child “behave”.

But remember that a child who has been threatened and looks “well-behaved” on the outside, is likely still feeling stressed on the inside, and is trying to keep it together for the sake of pleasing others, and for the sake of Christmas. We talk about behaviour as if it were a choice - but oftentimes, it isn’t.

You’re not a bad parent if you use these threats. This is just some information based on what we now know about child development that you might like to consider.

What can you do instead? It’s the same as any other time of year. Remember that all behaviour is communication. Empathise. Connect before you correct. Reframe seeing attention-seeking as connection-seeking. Co-regulate. I’ve covered this in many previous posts and on my blog.

And don’t forget, you’re not going to get it right 100% of the time - no one can. Doing what you can with the resources you have is enough.


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