Experts weigh in on navigating the holidays with young children and older relatives

Dec 21, 2023, 3:14 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — For young children or those who may be more mentally vulnerable, the holidays can be a wonderful time to celebrate connection with family — but they can also pose speed bumps to navigate together.

There are steps to take to be mindful of our loved ones this holiday season.

McCall Lyon, doctor and teleconsultation director for The Children’s Center Utah, says keeping the happy in holidays takes a delicate balance.

“We see so much excitement and positive anticipation this time of year. Excitement and positive expectations are next-door neighbors to nervousness and being overwhelmed and being over stimulated,” Lyon said.

Lyon said there is power in politely setting boundaries.

“The phrase, ‘No, thank you,’ for little kids — I think it could be very helpful to divide activities or events, maybe into smaller or digestible chunks, so to speak,” said Lyon.

For instance, if there are two parties scheduled back-to-back, she said while that may be a lot for a little child to take in at once, she suggested creating some space between one and the other can work its own magic.

“Maybe down-regulate, have some time to something quiet and comfortable together. Read a book, color a picture. Then maybe they’ll be more regulated and they can go to that second party,” said Lyon.

It is also important to create a special space for family members who may live with dementia.

Kristy Russell, the state’s Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias specialist, advised having a physical, quiet space in your home for that person with dementia to relax.

“Some of this hustle and bustle and all of the lights and decorations can be really overwhelming when your brain doesn’t know how to process that,” Russell said.

With big family gatherings, she said it is also a good idea to look at smaller groups.

“Maybe have them come in shifts. So, you have one child and their kids, and then again when you’re having that one-on-one time to actually make those memories, versus overwhelming somebody with dementia,” Russell said.

The biggest things to remember across all ages are the small things.

“Probably what is going to stay with kids across the years is the memories they make together,” Lyon said.

“Keep it as simple as you can. Maybe remove some of the lights. Stick to the most important parts,” Russell said.

Russell said if you have a loved one who lives with dementia, communication with other family members and catching them up to speed is key.

It is also important to be mindful of routines.

Later in the day, Russell said people naturally grow more tired. For those living with dementia, their brains are working overtime, so she advised planning earlier in the day as something to consider.

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Experts weigh in on navigating the holidays with young children and older relatives