Every year we all look forward to getting family and friends together for Thanksgiving and Christmas and also New Years. The joy, the fun, and the connection during these occasions is a major focus and can be a wonderful experience. It can bond relationships. The youngest of the group, our kids, however may or may not experience or feel much of this objective of creating or enhancing purposeful connection with each other.
Unfortunately all too often these holidays may create unintentional emotional stress, psychological challenges and physical and financial hardship. As adults we all learn to manage this and can get through most of it by trying to keep our eye on the prize; which is to create and have an enjoyable and loving experience together.
One of the things we can do to help our kids navigate their way through these potentially disruptive family experiences is have a talk with them in advance about some of the challenges that might come up when the participants all get together. It is important to tell them first that one of the main purposes for celebrating these holidays together is to gather family and good friends with a collective goal of the experiencing the joy of good relationships and celebrating that accomplishment. After verbally setting that simple objective then, with sensitivity, bring up any issues that you think might possibly negatively impact that objective.
Avoid the Blindside
For many kids, especially the younger ones, most are unaware that there may be specific emotional or psychological and personal difficulties between some of the adults that will be at the event. It is much better that our kids have some idea of this before it surfaces in an awkward or disturbing way that ‘blindsides’ them and may confuse them. Also, it is critical that as you bring up some of the issues that may arise, try not to bias them with your own possibly negative opinion. I realize this can be very difficult, but if you can accomplish this then the child’s reactions may not be necessarily relevant, and it might minimize any emotional impact.
I don’t need to detail all the many scenarios that can occur in these types of family gathering but suffice to say that some may be very intense, hostile and/or very strange. This is especially difficult on the kids. Brace them for the possibility and offer them the safety of coming to you for support or an older sibling who has learned how to manage the experience. I don’t typically discuss potential highly negative atmospheres, but Thanksgiving and Christmas family gatherings can catalyze some pretty hard stuff, especially if there is a little too much wine available or one of the participants is having an especially difficult time in their life.
I suggest being proactive but also staying focused on the pleasurable aspects of your family and look for clear opportunities to show that kind of interaction. Remember we are the significant models of behavior for our children, particularly when it comes to the interaction with other family members.
If some challenging or unpleasant event does occur, I think the best thing you could do is to try and make sure the kids do not think it may have been their fault – even though lot of times our kids do indeed feel that they are part of some of the issues. But try to minimize their feelings of blame. Our kids have little ability to manage their emotional experiences but should not be burdened with believing that they created the problem if at all possible.
If a negative event does crop up it is critically important to be honest as well, but honesty delivered with kindness and sensitivity can help alleviate the emotional anguish they may be experiencing. I do realize that family get togethers can be challenging in many ways and that we often must “dance” around pending or long-standing relationship issues. But doing our best to protect our children from negative emotional tension is a good thing. Try to predict it and move out of the way with your children.
I hope you all have zero issues and beautiful holidays.