Blog: Nurturing Children Together

Managing the Holidays with Young Children

As we head into the break, we know many Allen Creek families will be celebrating winter holidays.  This can often involve trips, visits with extended family, and parties.  These times can hold feelings of warmth and connection, but can also be a time of frenzied busyness.  How can we best help our children and ourselves to manage the expectations of this season, while still preserving the joy in gathering with those we love?

The winter holidays can often be a time of “too much.”  Too much food, too many presents, too many new places and people, too much sugar, too many late nights, and too many disrupted routines.  What can seem fun to adults can quickly become overwhelming to children.  Overexcitement itself can be frightening to them, as it so quickly leads to feelings of being out of control.

So what can parents do to help?  When visiting family or friends--whether for an extended time or a party--it’s usually best to help children know what to expect while they are there.  Keeping an open dialogue with your children can better help them manage their emotions in situations outside of their normal routines.  Some things you can consider and discuss include: who will be there?  Will there be a lot of people your child does not know?  Are there different rules or expectations than at your own house?  How long will you be there?  What do you plan to do?  Will there be a space available where your child will be able to do his or her own sort of things?  It can be helpful to talk with your partner ahead of time about which elements of your child’s normal routine feel most essential to preserve during your visit. For example, does it matter to you that your child keeps a consistent bedtime?  Where do you want to stand firm and where can you be flexible? It’s valuable to have an idea of these shared priorities ahead of time, before encountering the expectations of your parents, in-laws, or siblings.  

While you are away, it is best to keep a close eye on your child, and to be aware of when he or she begins to become stressed or overwhelmed.  When you first notice these signs, take a little time together--can you take a walk? Read a book?  Color or draw?  Lie down for a bit?  During this downtime you can help put words to your child’s experience or to your own.  For example, ”I like these parties but I can get tired of talking to so many people.  It sometimes helps me to take a little break where it’s not so loud.” Or, “I noticed you were starting to have a hard time negotiating with your cousins about what to play next.  It can be difficult when there are so many kids with so many different ideas.”  It sometimes even helps to explicitly remind your children that they can seek you out for assistance as needed--”let me know if you need help or a break” or “you can find me in the kitchen if you need to check in.”   

Just as it’s helpful to keep a close eye on your children, it’s advantageous for parents to pay attention to their own emotional barometers as well. Looking ahead, what do you think will help you feel most “yourself” during the season?  Does it matter to you to keep up your exercise routine?  To try to stick as closely to your normal pattern of eating as possible?  Are you a person who needs alone time or do you thrive on being with other people? Are there ways to ensure you’re getting enough sunlight and enough sleep? When parents are able to take good care of themselves, it makes the overall season more enjoyable for everyone.

We wish you and your families all of the warmth and good feelings that go along with being connected to your larger community and to each other.  We look forward to seeing you again in 2017.

Talking With Children About Fire Drills

Anticipation of required fire drills and the actual experience of them can be confusing and frightening for preschoolers, and children are best prepared for the experience if they first hear about it from their parents.  What follows is a description of happens at many schools, followed by a few suggestions for how to talk with your children about the drill. 

On the day before the drill, the teachers will talk with the children in their classes about the drill and answer questions. On the day of the drill teachers will again tell children, at the morning meeting, that the school will be practicing how to leave the building if there is a fire so that we can be safe. Someone from the office will push the smoke alarm button in the main hall and the high pitched beep will alert teachers and children that the drill is happening.

Each class will line up at the room’s outside door, teachers will make sure all children are present, then each class will walk out, pass playgrounds, parking lots and other familiar landmarks to a particular spot.  Teachers will once again take attendance, and one of the school helpers will let everyone know when the children and teachers can return to the building.

Our experience at Allen Creek Preschool has been that children manage fire drills well, but that their thoughts, questions, and anxieties about the reason for the drill, whether or not there actually will be a fire, and whether they and their loved ones are safe, emerge afterwards, sometimes even several weeks later.  Because fires are unpredictable and scary to all of us, it can be hard to know how to reassure children that they will be safe.  As with all real life fears and uncertainties, it is important to talk with children in as matter-of-fact way as possible, at their developmental level, about what is happening and why.

A few days before the drill it is a good idea to tell your child/ren that there will be a fire drill at school the coming week and to describe the steps outlined above.  Ideally you can discuss this during the day at a calm moment when your child is rested and fed. 

When they ask why we need to do this, the message to convey is that the adults know how to keep them safe and that it’s always good to practice being safe.  We do a lot of things to stay safe: sit in car seats, use seat belts, wear shoes outside, stay away from the hot stove, wear helmets when we ride bikes, hold hands crossing the street, etc. We also know how to be safe around fires, such as around campfires, candles, or fireplaces.  If they express worry about something bad happening, again it’s best to reassure them that the adults in their lives do everything possible to help them be safe, and know what to do if things go wrong.  You will be there for them and their teachers will be there for them.

While children need to know that practicing is a good way to stay safe if there is a fire, details about fire disasters and what happens when a building burns down or when people get burned are not necessary or helpful, and can cause more anxiety.  Reading children’s books about fire fighters is fine; showing images of actual buildings on fire is not.  If you think it would be helpful for your child to act out a fire drill at home, you may consider doing some low key pretend drills, designating a door in your house to go out, making a beeping sound, going to a safe spot in the driveway or by the street.

Finally, children may show signs of distress or worry through behavior such as being irritable, reluctance to go to sleep, waking up at night, or not eating as usual. Because they are not fully able to understand the impact of scary events such as fires, children sometimes have private, bigger-than-reality notions of what might happen, and need us to reassure them that all is okay. Children do best when they know what to expect and when they know that the adults who take care of them are in control and know what to do.  

If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to talk to your children's teachers.