By Dr. Aviva Weisbord, Executive Director, SHEMESH

The Yamim Tovim coming up – Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah – are beautiful, inspiring, meaningful and quite challenging for parents and children.  Schedules are out the window, meals are later than usual, bedtime is a forgotten concept and everyone seems out of sorts.  For children who have more than the typical need for structure, Yom Tov can create havoc with their lives, and with the lives of their families, too!

There actually are some ways to minimize the disruptions caused by a month of Yom Tov and it’s worth thinking about them beforehand.  The most effective approach is to PLAN, PLAN, PLAN.  This is difficult to do when our minds are focused on menus and preparing for guests. As arduous as it appears, planning can save tears, arguments and much unpleasantness.  Here are a few ways to keep the Yom Tov disturbances to a minimum, even as we recognize that it is not possible to eliminate them entirely.

The first step is to maintain as much of a regular schedule as possible, including time for meals and, when applicable, for medications.  Even though people will be getting home later than usual from Shul, have a meal or at least a mini-meal ready for your children at the regular time, helping them keep their body clocks on schedule.  Prepare the children for the schedule changes and let them know you will help them deal with these.

Map out each day, so you don’t spend two hours of the morning trying to figure out what your family will be doing on Chol HaMoed.  If you’re travelling, bring things to do in the car and take a lot of breaks for running around and stretching.  If you’re having guests with children, put away the favorite toys.  This will teach your children to share the other toys, while letting them know that it’s not necessary to share everything.  It also demonstrates your respect for items that are important to them.

Be sure to have a back-up plan.  This can include a private signal that lets them know it’s time to settle down, or to avoid commenting on anything “quirky” going on.  Expect to leave the table for a bit, if that helps your child regain composure.  Maintain the medication schedule; don’t stop just because there’s no school.  The activities of Yom Tov will require all the inner resources your children can muster, so give them whatever they need to manage the hectic times.  Be lavish with your encouragement and appreciation for each thing that goes well and remember: “A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success. Expect meltdowns and move on.

When you take the time and put much thought into planning for these three weeks, you might just be pleasantly surprised about how well things actually can go!  We wish you all a Shana Tova, Yom Tov Sameach, and much success in keeping sane and steady over the next few