It’s that time of the year ...
Getting out of bed early is never an easy thing to do, but suddenly it’s become a whole lot harder. I wake to my alarm and think: How am I going to do it all today?
Welcome to what I call the end-of-year drag. We’re dreaming of the Christmas holidays (if only because there will be no drop-offs) and an end to all the relentlessness.
Our kids are feeling it too – with more attitude, tantrums and other unhelpful behaviours.
I need some help to make it to the finish line so I called on Dr Laura Jana, a brilliant paediatrician and author who travels the world talking about how our children’s brains work. I figured she could give me some insight into what’s happening at this time of year, and tips on how to manage it.
How to help your kids at the end of the year
1. Many activities = more stress, less sleep
As we hurtle towards Christmas, it can feel like everything is happening at once. Work events, family commitments, school concerts. Laura says if you’re feeling overloaded chances are your kids are responding to that.
All of these activities (and longer hours of daylight) can mean that children are getting to bed later.
Laura says, “Sleep is not simply the absence of being awake. Rather, it serves many really useful and important purposes.” Sleep helps the body to heal and repair, but it also affects your child’s ability to control their emotions, follow directions and behave.
Coping tip: Being aware of your own stress levels (by saying no to a few events) and trying to keep the bedtime routine consistent (and early) can help your child at this time of year.
2. It may not look like it, but your kids have been working all year too
If you have a child at primary school, you already know that the year has started to pile up on them. They might be more resistant to homework, going to school or are falling asleep on their feet.
And if your child is yet to be in formal primary education, Laura says it’s important to remember that play is the work of children.
“I like to remind parents that while (hopefully) fun, play involves a lot of stimulation and learning - not just early literacy and math-type skills, but also all of the really important QI Skills (social emotional, executive function, etc). As a reality check, I like to suggest to adults that they compare it to doing their own work - it’s entirely possible to have fun doing your work as an adult, but at the same time it can be unquestionably and absolutely exhausting!”
Coping tip: Your child has been working just as hard as you this year. Remember if you’re feeling tired, they probably are too!
3. Children and adults react to exhaustion differently
This from the School of the Bleedingly Obvious but some things bear repeating.
Our children are still mastering emotional and social skills, that we have hopefully managed to get on top of.
Laura explains, “When children are faced with stress, fatigue, unsettling routines (or lack thereof), they can regress. It’s easy to anticipate what this might and often does look like, since the newly developed skills don’t tend to hold up well under pressure - lack of impulse control or not thinking through one’s actions can lead to impulsive behaviours like hitting, tantrums, as well as decreasing a child’s ability to play nice with others.”
Coping tip: Be aware that your child’s behaviour is coming from their exhaustion, not their desire to drive you mad. Try to stay consistent and predictable as much as possible with your routine as this makes children feel more secure and less stressed.
4. Keep things in perspective
Laura’s final tip is to try and keep things in perspective.
“I find it helpful to remind parents that a lot of what contributes to stress at the end of the year is, at least to a certain extent, self-imposed. By trying to keep a big picture perspective on the fact that the last day of one year really isn’t that different from the first day of the next, parents can hopefully decrease a bit of the artificial end-of-the-year stress that often seems to set in.”
How to help yourself at the end of the year
The Parents Village is the safety net that every family should have. Founders Kirsty Levin and Lana Sussman are parents and counsellors who help adults adjust to their new lives as parents.
Kirsty has the following advice on how we can help ourselves make it to the finish line.
1. Be prepared, leave early and allow space in your day
That can feel counterintuitive when you spend your days rushing from one thing to the next, but Kirsty says being prepared is key to feeling on top of things. This might mean having everything ready the night before (daycare outfits, uniform, lunches etc) to knowing what public transport you need to take to work.
Leaving early can mean you avoid traffic, plus have time for an unhurried goodbye at school or daycare, which means everyone feels a whole lot better before they start their day.
2. Have a good time in the car
If you’re like me, right now your only moment of peace is the walk around the car after you put your kids in their seats. But Kirsty says that making the car ride fun can work for everyone.
“Upbeat morning music works a charm, as well as kids' audio books, mini conversations about the day ahead, or silly observational games like I Spy or Spotto! Anything that boosts their mood and yours is a good thing.”
Kinderling have a very special mixtape specifically designed to help you make it to the end of the year. Check it out here.
3. Give everyone time to breathe after school
Too many extra-curricular activities after school can keep everyone on a knife’s edge. But what if you used that time to simply unwind?
“Sometimes the best lazy afternoons after school are spent at the park or beach, eating an ice-cream and feeding the birds. Simple things are the least stressful.”
4. Staying on top of everything that’s going on
While setting boundaries and saying no to some events is important, it can be impossible to avoid a crowding of commitments at this time of year. Kirsty suggests divvying up the load with your partner when it comes to school and daycare commitments. There’s no reason you both have to go to everything.
Staying on top of what you have said yes to can also lessen the stress.
“Keeping a common family calendar can help – whether its on an iphone or stuck on the fridge – everyone has to be onboard and up to speed each week. There are some great apps such as Wunderlist for managing and delegating all the family responsibilities and to do lists and also Cozi Family Organiser or FamCal for coordinating family schedules that build up with events toward the end of year.”
5. Keeping your energy levels up
Besides coffee, how can we keep going when all we want to do is crawl under a rock until Boxing Day?
The key here, according to Kirsty, is setting boundaries, not saying yes to everything and allowing some time and space in your week.
“Going to bed at a reasonable time and de-toxing from tech at night also helps to relax and switch off. The obvious answer of exercise can definitely help but if you hate exercise like me and prefer sedentary and social activities, a coffee or desert with a girlfriend after the kids are in bed or just after drop-off can be just as invigorating, energising and inspiring as a 30-minute workout at the gym.”
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