The Party’s Over

Happy New Year!  The holiday is over, welcome to Monday morning – time to face school and work.  For children and parents, too, an adjustment to the reality of daily life can be challenging after this long holiday period that seems to start earlier every year.  The tree ornaments are packed up for another year, the menorah is put away, the stores, homes and streets lose their festive decorations.  With all the parties and presents, children had been transported into what may have felt like a fantasy world.  There may be some resistance to the re-entry into the everyday world.

Transitions are often hard – especially for young children.   Sunday night blues are common even for adults facing work after a weekend, even more so after a long holiday.  But little children daily often resist just moving from one activity to another, even when the change is to something they like doing.  They as yet do not have the tools they need to be flexible moving from one thing to another.  They get stuck in the moment – even a bad moment, as parents can attest after trying to move children out of such a moment.

In the same way, young children may have trouble calling up within themselves experiences or feelings they are not having at that moment.  If they are disappointed, angry or sad, that becomes the totality of what life is all about.  It often seems impossible that they will get over anything that is happening, or that they are feeling.  In the same way, the good feelings and experiences are not supposed to end.

Along these lines, pre-school children in particular are still operating in large measure through the pleasure principle.  They want to have and do what brings them pleasure and are not yet ready to defer, or give up what they want, in the service of a larger goal, such as getting enough sleep to feel rested the next day.  It is also hard to wait for what they want, or to imagine that there will be other times of fun in the future.  The concept of time is abstract – compared to now.

For all these reasons, children often seem to regress after a long holiday, or whenever there is a significant change in children’s lives, such as travel, a parent’s absence or even after an illness.  Bedtime, meals or even following usual routines seem disrupted.  Children may protest doing ordinary things they had long mastered, or require the kind of help they had no longer needed.

Nursery school teachers – and even those of older grades – can testify to the behavior changes they have come to expect after a long holiday or other absence.  At times children seem to be going backwards, having forgotten all they had learned and mastered.  Parents often attribute such changes to children being over-tired and over-stimulated, which of course, may play a role. 

For the most part, however, the seeming regression reflects the fact that developmental steps are not yet firmly in place and are easily interrupted by changes in children’s lives that bring about changes in familiar routines and daily patterns of behavior.  When a disruption is due to a holiday such as the one just ended, it becomes hard to give up the pleasures that have been experienced. 

Daily life places demands on all of us.  Even young children are expected to do things that are not to their liking.  Often such expectations are deferred during a holiday when there have also been greater indulgences.  Children, like adults, can sometimes have hangovers from too much indulgence.  If both children and parents are having hangovers then it is particularly hard. 

The good news is, this too, shall pass.  The seeming regression is just temporary.  The key is to make some concessions to what may feel like needy or less mature behavior on the part of our children.  Just dropping back a bit to earlier expectations can enable us to lead our children to the level they had earlier achieved.  As with other aspects of development, having already mastered certain steps, it takes less time to regain them.

Besides, as I write this it is snowing.   Children can use their new sleds or saucers tomorrow – or hopefully, one day soon.