Expert Opinion

Preparing for the holiday season and the new year with Amanda Abel

Why do siblings fight?

Siblings fight because all people in loving relationships fight! It is actually a normal part of not only child development but human nature and relationships. It’s just trickier with kids because they don’t yet have the skills to be able to navigate these conflicts reasonably – and they’re in a far more egocentric stage of life than we are.

You can manage sibling fights by being proactive – so not waiting until the fights to deal with it but trying to prevent the fights by developing your children’s skills in this important area.

Some effective proactive strategies include:

  • Keep the kids busy – being bored is a huge trigger for sibling arguments!
  • Try to praise appropriate behaviour between your children – moments when they are caring or loving towards each other
  • Ensure you’re having enough one on one time with each child to avoid attention-seeking behaviours


When the arguments do arise – and they will – try to remain calm and ensure you’re not treating your children differently as this can add fuel to the fire.

Why are holidays hard for some kids?

The predictability and structure of the school year provide a lot of comfort for children. And for those who are not yet at school, the rituals and routines of childcare or kinder do exactly the same thing – provide comfort and security.

So, when we remove this scaffolding, it can make some children feel a sense of unease. And that can lead to difficult behaviours – often rooted in emotional dysregulation.

If this rings true for your child, try the following:

  • Use visual schedules or your calendar to show your child what will be happening each week
  • Some children may need a deeper level of predictability in which case you can do a breakdown of each day to show your child what to expect
  • Keep your kids engaged in activities either at home or out and about
  • Schedule some downtime for your child to just be at home so they have regular breaks
  • Be proactive and talk with your child about appropriate ways to express their feelings. You might talk about things like “in the holidays you might have some big feelings because things are going to be different. If you have big feelings that you don’t know what to do with, it’s cool for you to go into your chill-out tent and have some downtime. It’s not okay for you to hit or hurt anyone”


How to manage parent stress in the festive season

The festive season brings not only happiness but also stress! For parents, this can be amplified by the increasing demands in the lead-up to the end of the year.

As I always say, it’s essential to look after yourself so that you can provide the love and support your children need – and this means prioritising your mental health during this particularly challenging period.

Some practical suggestions include:

  • Remember it’s okay to say ‘no’ to invitations and requests in order to preserve your energy and the energy of your kids
  • Sleep deprivation makes everything harder to manage, so prioritise your sleep where possible
  • Plan each week ahead on a Sunday so that you can double-check that everything will run as smoothly as possible each week (i.e., have you got babysitting organised for that important work meeting? Do you need to reschedule the dental appointment you made 6 months ago because it’s just too busy at the moment?)


And to manage your stress levels:

  • Manage stress by slowing down your breathing – inhale for a count of about 5, hold, then exhale for a count of 10. Ensure your ribcage and abdomen expand.
  • End your shower with cold water or immerse your face in cold water to stimulate your Vagus nerve.
  • Laugh.
  • Engage in non-screen-based activities that you really enjoy.


How to prepare for your pre-schooler to start school:

I love to recommend that parents have casual conversations with their children about what school will look like, discuss their emotions around starting school and develop effective coping strategies that they can use to manage strong emotions. Start practising these strategies well before school starts so that your child is feeling competent with these skills.

While I encourage conversations around school readiness, don’t overdo it! Sometimes we can talk too much about it, which is challenging for children who don’t really know what the transition to school will be like. Balance these conversations with talk that involves many other aspects of your child’s life – like sports they are interested in, hobbies, interests, family, and friends.

In the preceding weeks and months prior to the transition try these ideas:

  • Ensure your child is comfortable with going into a public toilet cubicle alone, so they can lock and unlock the door independently.
  • Check they can open the lunchbox and unwrap or open any packaging
  • Go for a play or drive past the school frequently so they are familiar with the surroundings.
  • Connect with other families starting at the school so your child can form some friendships.
  • Be aware of your own emotional response to your child starting school and ensure you are containing any big feelings you’re having about it so that your child doesn’t pick up on your discomfort.

School transitions – how to manage them:

While many children will feel excited about school transitions, just as many will approach the new school year with trepidation. Of course, we expect children who are first commencing school to experience nerves. And those moving up to secondary school – particularly where there is a school or campus change, to be apprehensive. But even the transitions each year within the same school can be challenging – a new classroom, new teacher and a different mix of peers can leave many children feeling anxious about what to expect.

If your child struggles with transitions, try these ideas:

  • Preparation is key! Give your child as much information in advance as possible (appropriate to their developmental level) so there’s less to guess about – and less to worry about. Your school should be able to help you out with this.
  • Encourage the school to give your child informal opportunities to visit their new classrooms, such as being a ‘messenger’ or ‘helper’. Similarly, your child should be encouraged to start developing a relationship with the new teacher, so they have a stronger sense of connection in the new year.
  • Use social stories to help prepare your child for the various changes and provide them with the expectations for the new school year.

What are the most important skills my pre-schooler needs for school next year?

Australia has one of the youngest school-starting ages in the world – and there’s no evidence that starting school any earlier will result in improved outcomes. In fact, research suggests that children who have a smooth and successful transition to school tend to maintain higher levels of social and academic competence.

But how do we encourage a successful transition to school? This is where the term ‘school readiness’ comes in, which is a broad term referring to a child’s competence in social, emotional, communication, motor skills and independence.

My experience working with many Prep teachers over the past 20 or so years has taught me that social-emotional skills are probably the most important. A child who can read all their ‘golden’ words and write the alphabet upon school-entry is great, but if they’re unable to maintain composure when they don’t get their way or resort to aggression in response to having to share the monkey bars, then the school day is going to be tricky for all involved.

Skills to encourage in the lead up to school commencing include:

  • Taking turns and sharing.
  • Managing emotions appropriately.
  • Independent toileting.
  • Following instructions from adults.
  • Listening to others.
  • Expressing themselves clearly.
  • Managing a lunchbox.

Encouraging your child to develop these skills will assist in encouraging a smooth transition to school, making the first year of formal education a more successful experience.

About the author

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive.
Amanda draws on her own experiences of being a parent along with her extensive training and well-honed skill set to get families thriving. Having worked with families for almost two decades, as a psychologist for the past 11 years in a variety of settings, and a valued board member of the Autism Behavioural Intervention Association, Amanda loves building the confidence of the adults in the lives of children so that they can connect meaningfully, help them reach their full potential, and live a life that reflects their values.
Often appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News and regularly featuring in print media, Amanda is on a mission to make the world better for kids through her clinical work, consulting to some of the biggest global toy manufacturers and educating the digital media industry about making the internet safer for kids.
Photo by Elina Fairytale