I love traditional celebrations. I love the colors, I love the food, I love the excitement but what I love most of all is getting to gather with our kampung and celebrating!
Having a little one (or two!) in tow can be tricky though, and definitely one of my top questions from parents going into holiday seasons – how do we go for open houses and keep everyone happy?
How do I not end up with a screaming child on the floor having a colossal meltdown?
Take a Deep Breath
First of all, breathe in and out. We got this. Then start reading, with these 5 easy tips, you’ll be the toddler whisperer when visiting relatives during big festivals like Hari Raya and Chinese New Year.
1. Set up expectations
The most important thing is to let your little one know what to expect – who will be there? What will it look like? What will we wear? What will we eat? What are the rules when we are there? So many times, so many social situations come with a host of do’s and don’ts that we intrinsically know through years of practice but our little toddlers have no clue!
Be the bridge for them by teaching them what to expect and defining it for them will help so much with meltdowns, tantrums, and embarrassing situations that usually come from little ones acting out of fear or confusion or just plain “I didn’t know”! Have this conversation before so you can empower them with what to do and why and you will see that even the teeny tiny ones will do so brilliantly.
2. Plan and anticipate
The next thing that you really want to do is think about where you are going. Is it hot or cold? Will there be a lot of people that will want to touch/carry/say silly things? Will it be noisy? What time will you be going there?
When you think about these things, what it really does is that it frames your mind for how to prepare and what to expect as mamas. The trifecta of a major meltdown usually revolves around your toddler being hungry (HANGRY!), tired, and/or overwhelmed/under stimulated.
Always be prepared
What this means is packing a snack if you think food will take a while to be served or if there is nothing that would be available that they can eat, adjusting your visiting schedule to fit in nap times or bringing along a carrier that your little one can rest in.
If there’s going to be a lot of sitting and chatting, maybe bringing a little toy for them to play or taking them for a little walk to run off some energy.
If they need the opposite, coming back to the car for a few minutes just to have a little cool and quiet or maybe seeing if there’s a side room that you can breastfeed in or take a little breather with your little one will make a world of difference so they will be ready to go again!
3. Pick your battles
The key to everything in life is to pick your battles! For festive celebrations, when schedules are a little crazy anyway, try and go with the flow and pick your battles.
They might not be able to pick their baju but maybe let them have a choice about what shoes they would like to wear (they’ll likely end up taking it off anyway!).
Be in their Shoes
One of the biggest things about respectful parenting is seeing the world through your little one’s eyes and then responding as a parent. What this means is that I give her the boundaries and then she has absolute freedom within those boundaries.
You cannot have more that 3 pieces of kuih raya but you can pick whichever 3 you want.
You cannot touch the fireworks, but you can watch the other people light up the fireworks from a safe distance for as long as you want. You can’t run around in the house but you can run around in the garden.
4. Stranger danger
For little ones, open houses can be terrifying. There are lots of new faces and likely, because they are so darn cute, lots of new faces would try to talk to them, touch them, hold them, tease them, love on them.
A big rule I have with my daughter is teaching her protective behaviours even if it’s family or close friends. I teach her to respect the cultural rules around elders so always calling them or acknowledging them but I never force a hug or kiss as it goes against everything I hope she will know and trust when she is older that no means no.
Allow your child space to take it all in. They will warm up faster if you don’t pressure them to but more so than that, if they know that you will “protect” them and not force them to play/call/perform, they will also feel safer and be more themselves and naturally end up playing and “performing”!
5. Soak it in
The most important tip I have for you however is… soak it all in! There will be some amount of crazy, some amount of chaos, but if you also go in knowing that this will happen and just strap on for the wild and precious ride anyway, you’ll learn that this time will go by so so fast.
You’ll blink through your first, second, third, etcetera, of visiting and you will wish that you could go back and soak it all in even more when they were so tiny and so teeny and so crazy!
Believe in Yourself
You got this, mama. Just remember that it isn’t about keeping them in check, but about managing expectations.
With these tips in mind, enjoy all the delicious food, laughter and love this year and from my family to yours, Gong Xi Fa Cai and Happy Holidays.