Challenging Behaviour or just Christmas?

Understanding Challenging Behaviour is one of the most requested Professional Development topics requested by Teachers, Early Childhood Educators, Parents, group leaders, etc.

As adults we sometimes forget how sensitive children are to our demanding adult focused world. It is easy to forget that children are just tagging along for the ride and we are driving.

What are the main factors that affect behaviour? They are; The Environment (both physical and social), The Function of the Behaviour (communication, gaining attention/objects), The Child (temperament, health, maturity, experiences, age-appropriate skills to cope with a situation)

Christmas, or any other special occasion that you might celebrate, either in your classroom or in your home, bring with them a great deal of excitement, anticipation, and stress. Families or teachers put up the Christmas tree on December 1st (some even before the Halloween Pumpkin has been put away) and unknowingly pump the kids up for the next month. A month to a child must seem like a year and having seen the decorations up in the local stores since August or September, they must wonder if Christmas is actually ever coming. They are told Santa or the Elf on the Shelf is watching (that sounds a bit scary, even to me!) Arts and crafts are no longer about a creative experience, it’s about making a gift for Mom, Dad or Grandma, and I’ve seen teachers fix it so it looks just right. (There’s an outburst waiting to happen right there!) Some schools and Early Learning Centres still host a Holiday Concert and this is a great time for parents but can be very stressful even for children who are natural entertainers.

Sitting on Santa’s knee for the annual photo for the mantel is also stressful and honestly, some folks have told me that they like the crying pics better than the smiling ones!? Oh dear, it is our role as caregiver/parent to protect and comfort children, so let’s not create stress by breaking our own rules and encouraging children to sit on the knee of someone they don’t really know (and some look a bit like a sasquatch!! ) if they don’t want to.  We must preserve the trust they have in us to protect them.

We do have great expectations of children’s ability to cope with our pace and this is never more evident than at the Midnight Madness sales over the Christmas season. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you are probably going to be taking advantage of the sales and deals offered during these tempting shopping marathons.

I have watched parents arrive at the mall at 8 or 9 pm with a toddler or preschooler in a stroller (when they are usually either in bed or getting ready for bed). Parents take their own coats off and drape it over the handle of the stroller or cart, roll up their sleeves and start their shopping adventure. Looking down, I see that the children still have their snow suit zipped right up to the chin, scarf still tied and mittens still tucked in. They might be sleeping when they get there, but as the time passes, they start to warm up quickly in their outer clothes. Then they start to squirm and make some noises in protest, and soon they are crying uncomfortably. I often hear parents direct their child to calm down, be patient, and other such statements. Sometimes, I boldly go up to the stroller and smile at their child and say wow!! You’re a late night shopper, are you getting hot in there? So many times parents are surprised that they have not been sensitive and quickly undo the coats, but now their child is already hot, sweaty and tired. We seem to have higher expectations of our children when they are tired and out of their routines.

Family gatherings are very important traditions but can also be stressful for children, especially if you don’t get to see your extended family on a regular basis. Large groups of people, the expectation to share everything and get along with everyone is a tall order and children need the support of the adults in the room to have a successful day.

So if you see your children (or the children in your care) have increased stress, trouble sleeping, worrying, more frequent ‘temper tantrums’, crying, need more attention, want to sit on your lap more often, need more hugs, or any new reactions to change;

It might not be challenging behaviour; it might just be Christmas!!

What can you do?

1) Try to limit changes to routines whenever possible

2) Try not to over sell the excitement, keep a calm environment (turn down the volume on the CD player and that great Christmas music!)

3) Be there to reassure and offer comfort, even when it’s not obvious what the problem is

4) More hugs, stay close, check in with eye contact and a smile from across the room

5) Talk about it; “wow, Christmas is pretty exciting but sometimes we get too excited and we feel different”

6) Spend lots of time outdoors, connected to nature; this calms the brain and increases seratonin and contentment

7) Try some calming techniques like deep breathing exercise (good for you and the kids!)

8) Don’t get caught up in the stress yourself; enjoy it, it’s supposed to be fun!

christmas decorations