By Julia Aynsley, occupational therapist

Ah, winter. The days are shorter and darker, we tend to be more tired, not to mention the logistics of winter gear and getting children in and out of vehicles and shoveling snow! And just as we start to get into the swing of boots and snow pants, the holidays arrive which often throw us off once again despite our best efforts.

Below are 5 tips for a peaceful holiday season with your family.

1. Do Less

We tend to pack in so many activities, parties and events into a few short weeks, which leave us even more exhausted come the New Year. Is it possible to say no to an event you’re not so keen on? Alternating ‘activity days’ with ‘do nothing days’ is another great strategy. Allowing our children to have pockets of unstructured, free play (even boredom!) are crucial to restore as well as get the creative juices flowing.

2. Simplify, simplify, simplify

Instead of tons of gifts which can be overwhelming for all of us, consider ‘experience. gifts’ for your family – tickets to a show, to a museum, movie vouchers, a special one-on-one date to the person’s favorite bookstore or café. Less is more, in everything that we do.

3. Connection over correction

With the different schedules, parties and indoor time we often notice misbehaviours in our little ones, who are thrown off schedule. Pay attention to all the ‘No’s and ‘Don’t do that’s, ‘That’s not nice’ that we say. Our children are trying to communicate with us. They are likely tired, hungry, or in need of connection. If a child is harming herself, another, or the environment, we immediately put a stop to the behaviour: ‘I won’t let you hit your brother.’ ‘We don’t hit- hurt-break’. And then we connect. We sit with the child, we say we notice how she is feeling. We find the underlying hurt, not attempting to fix it but to let it be there. Our children are begging us to connect. We often recommend daily special time during which a parent plays with the child for 15-20 minutes without distraction, and allowing the child to lead the play. Often this connection translates into the child having an easier time following our requests afterwards.

4. Limited screen time

We know it’s hard, it is addictive, but it is essential to limit screen time for healthy brain development, and to model appropriate screen time usage. How do you feel after you are on your phone for hours on end? We’ve all done it, and personally I feel pretty crummy afterwards. Developing rules and limits in your household is a good first step, and one that I also plan on implementing this coming holiday season. Examples include no screen time after dinner, or none before 3 PM, or none during the week and only one show on week-ends. Stick with it for a few weeks, and notice your children and how they react and behave. Opt for slower films and shows, be sure to limit screen time before bedtime as it can interfere with sleep and check out Common Sense Media online to really know the rating and safety of a particular show for your child’s age.

5. Get outside!

Outdoor time is the perfect antidote to screen time, many activities and planned events. Fresh air, trees, movement. Try a child-led walk in which your little one decides the direction of the walk. Sledding, a nature walk in the forest, no destination or goal in mind. Just being together with those you love.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!

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