The sights and sounds of the holidays can be more stressful than fun for a baby. But in moderation, the music, decorations, and activities can be fun for babies — and good for their development. Because there is so much to look at and listen to, their brains are constantly making connections, notes Julie Grassfield, a child life specialist at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas.
To make the most of the holidays with a baby, keep these tips in mind.
1. Keep activities baby-friendly. In the enthusiasm for holiday fun, people sometimes expect kids to enjoy things that they’re really too young for. Don’t be disappointed if your baby sleeps in his car seat during your trip to see the Christmas lights or is cranky about being outside in the cold while you’re shopping for a Christmas tree.
2. Lower your expectations for yourself. People tend to push themselves during the holidays. Even if you’ve been Martha Stewart-like in your approach to holidays past, you’ll need to readjust your thinking with a baby in the house. Will the world really fall apart if you don’t bake your traditional batch of candy-cane cookies?
3. Prepare your child for Santa. If you plan to tell your child that Santa’s coming, she needs to know what to expect. Santa — a big stranger with a scary beard — can be terrifying to a young child. Prepare your toddler by reading books or talking about Santa. Don’t force her to sit on his lap.
4. Keep the schedule stable. Just because you can handle a few late nights and odd dinner times doesn’t mean your baby or child can. Try to keep your child’s usual schedule as much as possible. Babies establish trust in the world through regular routines, and interruptions can cause stress.
5. Watch for impending meltdowns. Look for signs that your baby or toddler is approaching sensory overload. Hiccups, sneezing, fussiness, avoiding eye contact, and falling asleep in the midst of chaos are all signs of a baby who’s had enough and needs to shut down. Toddlers tend to get clingy, whiny, and excessively sleepy in similar situations. If going home isn’t an option, try moving the baby to a quiet place with dim lights.