National Network for Child Care's Connections
Robert Hughes, Jr., Ph.D.
Family Relations Specialist
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Holidays are a stressful time for most families. However, they may be more troubling for children in single-parent and step-family homes. Holiday traditions can cause children to remember times when mom and dad were together. New family arrangements may require children to celebrate at several homes. Here are some ways to help children in these families cope with the special stress of the season.
First, be aware of different types of families as you talk about holiday plans and make gifts and decorations. Encourage all children to share their plans and make items for all members of their families.
If children from single-parent and step-family homes talk about their holiday plans, they may discover others have families like theirs. When children find others just like them, they feel less unique and alone. Also, you have to be careful not to discuss a child's family situation in a way that could embarrass him or her.
Second, continue to enforce rules and limits. During times of stress, children need a stable and predictable world. Although some children may misbehave more when under stress, discovering that the rules have not changed comforts them. This helps them see the child care setting as a safe and stable base in the midst of change.
It is also important for children to be around people who will listen carefully to their concerns and give them a sense of worth. You don't need all the right answers. Mostly, children need someone who listens and cares about what they say.
If children seem upset, encourage them to express their feelings. For example, if a child expected a big present from a distant parent and shows anger or sadness because he or she received nothing, let the child know you care. You can comfort the child by saying "That must have made you feel let down."
Find out if the parent called or sent a card. If so, point out that these are also ways people show they care about someone.
You can also encourage the child to talk to the parent about his or her disappointment. Explain to the child that the parent may not know that they are upset unless they say so. You might also suggest the child talk to the parent they live with to understand the situation better.
If a child is moody, preoccupied, or disruptive and you don't know why, you might describe their actions to the parents. Ask whether they know of anything at home that may be troubling the child.
If a child who normally gets along well with others seems to be having more fights and disagreements, you might say to the parent, "Mark usually gets along well with the other kids. But, in the last few weeks, he has been getting into more disagreements. Have you noticed any changes in his behavior at home? Sometimes the excitement of the holidays makes some kids upset." This gives the parent the chance to talk about his or her own observations and to offer information that may account for the child's behavior.
However, be careful in assuming that a family situation is the sole reason behind a child's behavior. Holidays create stress for all families. The behavior you observe may simply reflect the tendency of all families to do too much or have unrealistic goals during the holiday season. It takes most children some time after the holidays to unwind and get back into daily routines.
Finally, be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Remember that there are many aspects of the child's life over which you have little control. You may hear stories from children about conflicts between parents or competition for children's loyalty that you think are unhealthy for children. In most cases, there is not much you can do to change the parents behavior. However, you can work to create a stable, predictable, and safe environment for the children you care for. This will help them cope more easily with stress.
You can also report children's concerns to their parents or encourage the children to talk with their parents about their feelings. In some cases, you may also be able to let parents know about school or community resources for single parents and stepfamilies.
By being sensitive to the needs of both children and parents, you can help families deal more effectively with both the joys and stresses of the holiday period.
FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Internet
DOCUMENT REVIEW:: Level 3 - National Peer Review
DOCUMENT SIZE:: 21K or 3 pages
ENTRY DATE:: March 1996
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