As we welcome in the New Year, many of us are experiencing a variety of post-holiday feelings that can range from relief to warm sentimentality to frustration, sadness, despair, and sometimes depression.
For many parents, the holidays evoke intense feelings as a result of the energy needed to deal with all the details, expectations, challenges and excitement.
Meanwhile, children are also experiencing a variety of feelings. Some are related to their own joys and frustrations, concerns, confusion, eager anticipation, and disappointment. They may express these feelings through behaviors that can involve aggression towards siblings, an increase in temper tantrums, sulking or pouting over minor disappointments, or becoming more demanding or unwilling to discuss or resolve issues.
Some of their feelings are the result of observing and intuiting those of their parents. As parents openly or more indirectly express feelings, children can absorb and sometimes mirror those feelings.
If parents are anxious, children can feel anxious in response and not know why they are having anxious feelings. If parents are feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, children can feel concerned because they are not sure what is going on, if they have done something wrong, or if things are going to get worse.
So, how might things get worse?
Well, there can be significant division and separation between and among family members as each person deals with these intense feelings.
Both children and adults need healthy outlets for pent-up energy that stems from intense feelings. If a family does not have built-in mechanisms to allow intense feelings to be expressed appropriately, all that energy can exacerbate the initial feelings, further separating family members from each other and causing distress for each person.
What can help?
Start with focusing on awareness of possible feelings you as a parent are having, and then note those that your children may be having.
Do not judge or criticize these feelings because…feelings just are.
We might not always like them but they are not wrong or unreasonable; rather, they are the result of some type of internal or external stimulation, such as all the intensity around the holidays.
Children and adults often don’t know why they are feeling as they are feeling. So an unfair question can be, “Why are you feeling like that?”
Instead, it can be helpful to give feelings a name.
These should be objective, descriptive names and not names that are evaluative. There should not be blaming, discounting or criticism of feelings.
For example, instead of “You are being ridiculous to feel like that!” say something like, “You are feeling frustrated right now.” If you have a guess as to why, you can add that to show that you really understand. For example, “You wish you had gotten some of the same gifts as your brother got.” Or, “You really thought that toy would be more fun than it is.”
Openly acknowledging and naming your feelings can serve as a model to children and can help you identify those feelings to yourself as well.
Taking a moment to focus on feelings, naming them, and, whenever possible, sharing an explanation as to why you might be feeling a certain way might sound like this: “It’s been such a busy time over the holidays, and I’m feeling happy that we’ve gotten together with our family and friends. Also I am a little overwhelmed by all the extra work. That can make me seem grumpy or frustrated, I know.”
Naming them, admitting to your own, and being nonjudgmental about them are all ways to help you and your children experience and manage post-holiday feelings.
Knowing that the holiday season tends to intensify feelings can help parents have more reasonable expectations, and therefore, be more tolerant and accepting, which often serves to help children and the rest of the family balance and even modify the intensity of their feelings.
The holidays are a great time for modeling healthy responses to feelings since they are a time when so many feelings are experienced and expressed.
Soon enough, we will move back into a more normal lifestyle as we each recover, regroup, and recall our many experiences.
Hopefully, we can all take a moment to enjoy, embrace and appreciate the myriad of feelings associated with the holidays and give our children the gift of being able to identify and appropriately express those feelings.
Invitation to Reflect
- Recall some of your past holidays, especially those when you were younger. What do you remember about the hours, days and weeks after the holidays? Were you free to express feelings, including those considered more negative than positive?
- What have you observed in yourself during these holidays? To what extent have you been honest in identifying feelings you are having so your children can use your behaviors as a model for identifying their own feelings?
- To what extent are you accepting of your children’s feelings, recognizing they may be more intense because of the holidays? Are you clear about ways to help them identify those feelings?
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Lakeside Global Institute