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An Adeona Family Podcast: An Early Childhood Journey

Episode 12: How To Navigate The Holidays With Children & Families

On this episode of the Adeona Family Podcast, Tracy and Zoe discuss how to navigate the holiday season with children and families, the importance of advocating for your child’s voice, passive toys, and how we can respect our children’s boundaries.

The holidays can be a wonderful opportunity to see loved ones, catch up with family and spend time with friends. That’s a lot of interactions and potential new faces for your child to take in.

The RIE perspective teaches us that in order for children to build strong positive relationships with people they need to have regular and consistent contact. This means that it’s normal for children to be apprehensive when meeting and greeting family members and friends – especially those they haven’t met before or those they haven’t seen in a while.

This holiday season it’s important to be mindful of how we approach gatherings, how we navigate our child’s relationships with family and friends, and remaining conscious of what it’s teaching them about consent and autonomy over themselves.


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Podcast Transcription


Zoe (00:11):
Welcome to an early childhood journey. And once again, you’re joined by Zoe and Tracy. Thank you for joining us again today. And let me just quickly start by acknowledging the land that Tracy and I come to you from today. And this country of the Yuggera and Tuurbal people. We’d like to pay our respects to their ancestors and their emerging leaders as well as their current leaders. Today, we are heading down a bit of a festive theme. Currently, we are heading into the Christmas period, we thought we would like to touch base on some ideas around respectful ways of celebrating at this point in the year.

Tracy (00:48):
Yeah, we just wanted to touch base. And we understand that this time of year is going to vary family to family, depending on culture and traditions and the way things have been done. And then I guess this year is an extra unusual year with COVID, maybe restricting what some people have planned for Christmas or the festive season. So I guess we just wanted to put out though some things to be mindful of, or to think about before heading into this period, or any period of celebration or large gatherings when it comes to young children and the excitement of this time of year.

Zoe (01:24):
Just want to start by also saying that this isn’t us saying that this is how you have to do it. But something maybe just for you to reflect on in some of the ways you might approach some of these times. And with COVID, having been a thing this year, also, some of you may not have seen family for quite some time. So that could be something to consider as well in this time.

Tracy (01:44):
Absolutely. And it’s important to have a bit of a discussion with other family members, especially, you know, the child’s immediate carers, Dad Mom, so that you’re all on the same page and there’s no unexpected surprises on the day when you’re feeling a certain way about something. But as I said, there’s no right or wrong. These are merely points that we’re putting out there based on the reflections that we’ve had as a centre, ourselves as parents, and what we know about child development and a RIE perspective. So I guess probably the first thing that we would like to put out there is that during this time, there are a lot of gathering with families, it might not be necessarily on Christmas Day. But there’s lots of parties with families catching up with uncles, aunties, grandmas, grandpas, long lost cousins. And just to be really mindful that we have to advocate for our children and help their voice be heard during this period. We’re going into this with sort of a plan and being really mindful about how you want to approach these gatherings is a really good way to start. So some things that we’d prompt you to think about is, are you a family, that when you see Grandma, you tell your child, Johnny go up and give grandma a kiss? In itself, that’s fine. We’re not saying that that’s bad. But what we would ask you to think about is what is that teaching your child about consent, and about their autonomy over themselves. So yes, we would certainly encourage our child to greet grandma, we would role model that, but we wouldn’t necessarily force or implore a child to hug or kiss somebody that they don’t necessarily just do that on their own.

Zoe (03:30):
I guess taking it from the RIE perspective, we believe very much that children need to build really strong relationships with people. And to do that they have to have regular, consistent contact with adults. So if all of a sudden new you’re meeting, you know, Great Aunt Betty, who you’ve met once before in your life, and then this child is meeting that Great Aunt Betty for the first time. There’s not going to be a strong relationship there. And so it is natural for a child to be apprehensive in that situation, typically.

Tracy (03:57):
Absolutely. And then the flip side of that coming from a child safety perspective, is that we want to teach children that if they don’t feel comfortable to engage in any sort of physical activity with an adult or another child that that’s their right to say no, that they can say I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t want to give Grandma a hug right now, doesn’t mean I don’t love grandma, doesn’t mean I’m not going to give her my attention and my affection in another way. But I don’t want to kiss and being forced to is sending the wrong sort of message to our children about their autonomy and the choices they have over their body. I understand that this can be quite hard to maybe explain or even to hear and process and how to explain to Grandma why you know, Grandma mind says come here and give me a kiss and you might decide then to speak up and say oh, instead of giving Grandma a kiss, would you be more comfortable giving her a high five or would you like to go and read a book with grandma or or or something that might allow that child to still have the distance that they want? I hope that makes sense. And it’s not that anybody’s accusing grandma or anything, it’s just building that awareness that they have consent over what happens to their body. It’s the same as if you see, you know, Uncle Bob in the background, and he’s tickling your child. And your child’s saying no, but laughing because they’re being tickled. You know, it might be that you have to go over and intervene and say, oh, you know, Johnny said, No, let’s go and do this. Because when you tell a child, no, I won’t let you hit. How’s that message received, if when Uncle Johnny is tickling, and he says No, Uncle Johnny doesn’t listen. So that’s the kind of message we’re trying to get across.

Zoe (05:36):
It is the No means no message effectively. And that goes in relation to everything. We have these instincts that help us to protect ourselves and in that moment, that child may be, it may be the wrong message, but they’re still having that message of something is telling them to say no. And so adults have to respect that.

Tracy (05:56):
Absolutely. And as I said, you would encourage them to interact with that person with your support in another way. So then, I guess, for your younger children, your babies, infants – another thing that occurs at large family gatherings, we like to call it pass the baby where the baby’s used pass the parcel, because everyone wants to have a cuddle and see how much they’ve grown. And while the baby or the infant may not protest about this, please just be aware that it is still quite overwhelming for that child. And that while people maybe can come up and interact, that you may not want to let them be passed around. And if they are having a cuddle with someone, you know, for you to go back and check in regularly and let the infant know that you’re there and you’re still their safe spot.

Zoe (06:45):
Yeah, definitely. It’s that circle of security in a different way. I guess. So you still need to be within where that child feels that you are a safe distance.

Tracy (06:55):
Yeah, absolutely. That also, you know, touching on what Zoey said before to that there might be family members there that the child hasn’t seen in some time. And we have to remember that, for us, even though we haven’t seen Uncle Bob for a year, we know Uncle Bob, and we love Uncle Bob, and we’re gonna give him cuddles. For that child a year is a really long time, they may not remember Uncle Bob all that well, and they may not feel safe and secure. And so we really want to go with the child and let them warm up at their own pace, and really support the child with that. And I guess that sort of translates over to to Santa visits. You know, children either love or hate Santa, there’s sort of no in between. So I’d say you know, go do your Santa photos, all of those sorts of things, I just say maybe be prepared, have your makeup on. Because your child is going to feel more secure with you there next to them. And it may be that for a first couple of years, or the whole time you are in the Santa photos as well, if that’s what you want to do. But once again, it’s a stranger. And it’s good that children have that awareness, it’s that internal radar that they have that their own stranger danger. And even though we know there’s no danger, it’s good to let children listen to their instincts and to trust those instincts. And for us to not override that.

Zoe (08:14):
Yes, and as we probably said earlier, every child is going to be different. Some children have no issue at all with any of this. It’s about reading your child. And I know that my son when he was younger, he was terrified of the idea of Santa. And we couldn’t even go to a shopping centre at that time of year, in case we ran into Santa wandering the streets, wandering around, ringing his bell. So it’s just being really aware of your child and what they are saying to you and being responsive to that.

Tracy (08:43):
Yeah, and it’s something that we’ve reflected on as a centre, even over the years have adjusted what we do regarding, you know, a big man with a beard walking in at the centre at this time of year, so it is something that is a tradition. And we understand that and it’s a really precious memory for a lot of families. It’s just making sure that we’re supporting and we’re seeing things from the child’s point of view, and that we’re really building in them that trust in what they’re seeing and feeling and not trying to deny or override that. The other thing that quite often happens at the family gathering is obviously children get presents from all sorts of people. And I know certainly in my house and as a mother I find it really hard to sometimes over instinct is that when you’re handed or your child’s hand at a present to automatically say or what do you say Zoey? Or, you know, Zoey, say thank you, which is a natural instinct. We want our children to be polite. We want them to acknowledge some gratitude for what they’ve received. But what would you do instead Zoe in that instance?

Zoe (09:52):
So, depending on the age, sometimes when children are a little bit younger, the whole idea of giving and receiving is still quite abstract to them. So the same as sharing. So sometimes they don’t know how to share when they’re quite young. And so someone handing over something to them, it’s still that whole abstract idea. So saying thank you, is not quite developmentally appropriate at that stage. For some children, it’s an overwhelming situation where they’re given a gift from someone, once again, it may be someone that they know quite well or someone who they do not know particularly well. So they’re already processing of someone’s giving me something, what do I do next? It’s a lot of information going on. So rather than insisting that they say thank you, if they’re not at that stage yet, it’s just about modelling that behaviour that you would want ultimately for your child to do, what courtesy you would like that child to show eventually. So you can say thank you on their behalf and you could sportscast, which means explain the situation of what’s happened. So Aunt Betty has given you a gift. That’s really lovely of Aunt Betty to give you a gift. And then you might say thank you Aunt Betty, for the child. Some people of different generations might struggle with that. So it may even be worthwhile talking to Aunt Betty, for example, before going into that situation if you can, just so that they also understand, because I think most people understand once they’re explained and makes sense to them, but depending on what generation they come from, there can be expectations.

Tracy (11:26):
That’s right, because we’d rather that we develop within a child, authentically saying thank you as opposed to it being like a parroted meaningless thing for them. Another thing that I find quite helpful, because I have children who are still young enough that they forget to say thank you sometimes, you know, is that we always follow up with like, a little thank you card, or a little picture of the child playing with a toy and, and I think that goes a long way or a picture, if they’re not old enough to write, you know, just it goes a long way to helping people feel okay about those decisions you’ve made. So grandma’s always a little bit happier when she’s received a picture and a thank you card from you. Yeah, it doesn’t have to, you know, the picture can come from the child, and you can talk about that as well. Like, oh, you know, grandma gave you a really nice jumper for Christmas, we’d love to show her how much we love it. What can we do? Do you want to take a picture of you wearing it? Do you want to draw a picture of you wearing it? Do you want to ring around the phone and say thank you. And then that gives that setting that expectation for a child, but it’s giving them choice about what they want to do.

Zoe (12:32):
Yeah, and on Christmas day, or any of those big celebration days that you might have, if a child has been kind of bombarded with a whole lot of toys or things, things can get lost as well. So it’s really probably a really lovely reflection for you to sit down with your child at some point down the road, you know, a week later, where things have settled a little. And you can really appreciate that thing that Grandma has given you, and then do the letter to follow up or the card.

Tracy (12:59):
Yeah, absolutely. And I guess that probably leads quite nicely into our next point, which is talking about that it can be quite overwhelming, depending on what your Christmas traditions are, and how many people you’re meeting up with. And all of that. It’s not only the amount of people and how well the child knows, and how comfortable they feel. It’s also it’s different food, it’s a lot of generally food that they wouldn’t normally eat, a lot of lollies, chocolates, chips, things like that. There’s also maybe less predictability to their day, because we do things a little bit different, maybe sleep time’s a bit later, maybe there isn’t the sleep.

Zoe (13:36):
Maybe lunch is at 2.

Tracy (13:40):
Maybe mum and dad are a little bit more relaxed than they normally are about things. And then you know, if they’ve been opening presents that’s exciting and heightened. And like we’ve spoken about in our emotional regulation podcast, that excitement and joy is also an emotion that has to be regulated, otherwise, we can get a little too hyped up. And then that can lead to feelings of overwhelm and feelings of dysregulation. It can be a little bit harder to control our urges and our impulses, adults as well as children. And so just to be really mindful of that. And to know that it’s okay to call a timeout for your child or you know, they actually just need some downtime, they may not need to sleep, but maybe they just need some time in a quiet space or some connection time with you to sit down and read a book. As much as possible, try and keep things predictable. And you might have to give a bit more information about the day than what you normally would. So it might be we’ve got you know, 10 more minutes to play with your new toys. And then we’re going to have to put them in this safe place so that you can come back to them. And we’re going to have lunch or you know, things like that so that they know what’s happening because the day isn’t as predictable as what it normally is.

Zoe (14:51):
Yeah, just being a little bit more aware that even a very unusually highly regulated child might have bigger feelings on those days. And as Tracy was saying, you know, excitement is one of those emotions that we also have to monitor because with every big emotion, there’s generally a downside to that and a crash. And then before we can kind of get back into our normal state of homeostasis, we like to say so, yeah, just being aware that that is probably going to happen.

Tracy (15:25):
Yeah, and especially if there’s a few days, so say that week between Christmas and New Year’s, you might be having lots of catch ups, you might be away, you might be going to the beach. So there might be a lot of unpredictable, unusual things for your family going on in that time. And that will have a communitive effect. So they might be fine on Christmas Day, it might be three days later, after having three days of catching up with people they don’t really know. And being busy and doing other things, that’s when you might find things are becoming a bit harder, and nine times out of 10 as parents you go ‘oh they’re just tired’. But they actually just might need that timeout and to consider putting some some predictability back into the flow of their day. Then the last thing that we sort of just thought we quickly mention on our little festive podcast was about presents. So obviously, the older your child, the more opinionated they’re going to be about what they would like for Christmas. I know my two, we’re recording this early November, and I know my two have already written their Santa lists. But what we would, especially for the younger children, infants, toddlers, they don’t need much. They really, really don’t. It’s very, you know, don’t go too hard too soon was the advice somebody gave me. And I wish I’d listened to it more. But what Magda Gerber, who developed the whole RIE philosophy and way of being, what her little saying was that ‘passive toys make active children’. So while the Fisher Price toys, you know, we all got them in our house, don’t get me wrong, you know, with their lights up, and their music and stuff, the toys, doing all the work, the child isn’t having to do much, they’re just pressing the button and bopping along to the song. Whereas open ended resources, wooden pegs, hours of fun. There’s so much you can do with a wooden peg, even if you’re 18 months old. What else? What other things? Balls.

Zoe (17:12):

Tracy (17:14):
You know, there’s a reason why there’s the cliché that the children play with the boxes and not the toys, it’s because the boxes are so open ended and can be so many different things. Things like dolls, they’re always nice, because they can be used in a multitude of ways. So what we’re saying is you don’t have to go for the expensive, noisy light up things, just get some really basic building blocks. You know, for the older kids, Lego is always amazing. Drawing, arts and crafts things. We want them to be resources that can be manipulated, and used in a multitude of different ways.

Zoe (17:49):
Yes, someone said to me recently, it’s where they can get feedback from the item itself. So it has a cause and effect, or it can be manipulated in many different ways, rather than just being one directional.

Tracy (18:01):
That’s right. And I know we have plastic animals in our house where you think well that’s a fairly closed toy, but in our house those plastic animals have very diverse lives. They gone from being people to animals, to rocks, to building blocks to, you know, they used for everything. And we just go with that. But they don’t make noise. They don’t do anything. They’re just plastic.

Zoe (18:24):
Yeah. And the children will use those to practice social scenarios. And that’s typically what they’re doing with those or they’ll line them up.

Tracy (18:33):
We’ve had lines of cars around our couch many a time. So I think that’s pretty much all we wanted to touch on with our podcast for this time of year. As I said, none of this is set in stone. These are merely ponderings that we have had at the service and as I said based on RIE beliefs and principles, and we’re just putting it out there for families to think about as they head into this time of year.

Zoe (19:00):
So enjoy your festive season however you like to celebrate and Tracy and I will be back with another podcast soon.