Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Let It Go: Reducing Holiday Triggers for Your Child, by Tricia

I believe there are a great many expectations that we put on our children during the holidays. We expect them to help decorate the tree with the family, go shopping with us, maybe wrap presents, and the worst part of all is having to spend time with extended family, oftentimes crammed into too tight of quarters.

And we expect all of this to be done with a smile on their face. They must be polite to Aunt Rita and Uncle Joe who are always making jokes at their expense. They have to accept hugs and “Merry Christmas!” from people they only see once a year, again all with a smile.

Maybe we could let them off the hook at least a little this year?

If you have never suffered from any sort of mental illness, you likely do not realize the extra stress that this puts on those who do. Most kids enjoy decorating the Christmas tree, but if your child doesn’t want to this year, why would you want to force him? Nobody enjoys being made to do things, but kids who suffer from bipolar or any other mental illness struggle with it much more.

If I said to you “Hey, there is something really fun for me, and it would make a great memory for me, too, but it is going to be really stressful for you,” would you want to do it? Especially, imagine you are trying to do what the other person wants, but you don’t look happy enough and so they start grumbling that you are ruining the whole thing. How would that make you feel?

Now let’s think about those crowded stores. All rushing and waiting and being too hot and waiting some more and some more etc.. The people around you are all grumpy and being rude. Your parent, who dragged you along in the first place, is one of those grumpy and rude people because again you didn’t seem to be enjoying this forced shopping experience enough. And now this memorable occasion has been ruined by you, who didn’t want to be there in the first place.

I hope you’re getting the feeling so far. I sure am my anxiety has gone up by 10% at least. But we are not done yet. Now we get wrap all of these gifts.

So the wrapping begins with you making a minimal effort because it’s wrapping with your parents. It’s work you didn’t want to be a part of, and you’re being told: “No do it like this. Wait, you’re using too much tape…” How is this holiday shaping up for you so far?

Now you are on your way to Grandma and Grandpa’s house where all the aunts and uncles and annoying little cousins will be. You walk in the door to be immediately greeted by Aunt Rita who yells, “Hey, Joe, look who is here. It’s that grumpy kid from over at your sister’s house,” or some equally rude thing that you are meant to smile and laugh at like they are funny and not rude. You try and find a corner away from everyone, only to be told to quit sulking. You should be talking with everyone because otherwise “you are being rude.” And on the day will go, in just that way.

Are these the memories you were hoping for? Probably not. So maybe we can rethink it just a bit. I’m not saying they have to go hide in their room the entire season, but you could make it a little easier and more enjoyable for all of you by taking their likes and dislikes into consideration, because this is a nicer story than it really could turn out to be. Depending on their age and how their symptoms affect them, you could be starting an all-out war, and later you will be sitting in the rubble wondering what happened. All of these activities could be triggering them again and again, and eventually there will be fall out.

Time to decorate the Christmas tree but he is not having it? Okay, it’s not the end of the world and good memories do not come from being forced to decorate a tree. So you let it go.

So how about we try again. Your kiddo loves going to Starbucks, so you say, “Hey, I have to run and get Grandma’s present. Would you like to go with me, and we can stop and get Starbucks together afterward?” Oh yeah, that will probably go over much better. Now you have taken their interest and mixed it with your desire to shop together, but by keeping it small you are minimizing the stress and triggering the reward center of the brain with that sugary coffee or cocoa, depending on their age of course.

Now you get home and would like help with wrapping the gift, but he doesn’t want to. No problem, keep the good memory you made and let it go.

Ah! It is time for the long-anticipated trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Your kid walks in the door and there is Aunt Rita. Time to intervene. “Hey, Rita Merry Christmas,” you say as you slip between the two of them. “Why don’t you go and put the gifts under the tree,” you say to your kid, effectively giving him an escape route. As he goes to find his corner, you let him go. No harm done and you get to enjoy your time with your other family members, while he gets to not be triggered by all of the chaos that can be so overwhelming.

About the Author

I am the proud mom of two amazing young men, one of whom was diagnosed with bipolar 1 at the age of eleven. He is now living successfully and managing his illness on his own.

I am a Youth Mental Health Advocate, Certified Family and Partnership Professional, and NAMI Volunteer.

You can find me on my Parenting For Good Mental Health website, on Twitter (@pfgmentalhealth) and on Facebook.


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