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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

3 Science-Based Tips for Recovering from the Holidays

Phew! Christmas is over (unless you still have more events to attend…or to host.) But either way, the big day is over. We should all of course be grateful for the day and for the family and friends that we get to spend time with as well as any material items that we or our children have been given.

On the other hand, it is totally understandable, if you, like me, feel somewhat a sense of relief. I love the love, the family, the quality time, the happiness, and the joy that is all around, but I am also somewhat relieved that the chaos and the planning has ended and that we are getting back into the swing of normal, daily routines.

So, what this post is going to present you with is 3 tips based on scientific principles of human behavior and development that will help you to recover from the holidays, to move from the chaotic, exciting peace of the holidays and move back into the more predictable, stable peace of your normal day to day life.

1. Use the Premack Principle for You and Your Kids

The Premack Principle is what some people refer to as “grandma’s rule.” Consider how some grandmother’s would traditionally state that children need to eat their veggies then they can get dessert. Another way of looking at it is to think of the concept as saying to someone “First ___(do this)____, then ___(you get this)____.”

Use the Premack Principle on yourself and your kids.

Here’s an example: For yourself, tell yourself that first you need to do the dishes, then you can have one (or three) of those delicious truffles that you got for Christmas.

Another example: For your kids, tell them that first they need to help you clean the living room floor, then your family can play a board game together or watch a movie or whatever sounds fun to them (consider if they got anything new for Christmas that you can all enjoy together).

2. Consider the Physiological Needs of Food and Sleep

The holidays bring a lot of changes to our schedules and our habits. It’s important to consider the physiological needs of every human being related to food and sleep when it comes to recovering from the holidays or any other change in day to day living.

Be sure to allow yourself and your kids to get back on a regular sleep schedule. It could even be beneficial to get an hour or two extra of sleep for a few nights to get caught back up from any potential lack of sleep or simply to recuperate after the exhausting nature of the holiday season.

Additionally, holidays come with lots of sweets and treats. It’s important to encourage your family to eat some healthy snacks and a balanced diet after the holidays. Of course, if you still have cookies on your counter or candy left over from Christmas (as we still do), you can take a little treat here and there (as I mentioned earlier), but don’t over do it. Kids and adults can certainly be affected by lack of proper vitamins and nutrients.

Some tips: Cook a homecooked dinner (instead of fast food or processed foods) for a few nights. Snack on fruits and vegetables. Make a dip for them if you would like. Keep everyone’s blood sugar balanced by having small, healthy snacks every few hours if needed.

3. Use Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviors

Differential reinforcement of alternative behaviors basically means that you provide no reinforcement for an undesired behavior while providing reinforcement for preferred alternative behaviors. Reinforcement is basically anything added after a behavior that will increase the future occurrence of that (or sometimes related) behaviors.

So, how do you know what to provide as “reinforcement” and what “alternative behaviors” to reinforce to help in recovering from the holidays.

Let’s start by considering what we don’t want to see in our kids or ourselves. There are lots of undesired behaviors that we don’t want to reinforce, such as our kids whining, throwing tantrums, breaking new toys, or fighting with each other. We also probably don’t want ourselves to feel stressed or to yell at our kids or to argue with our spouses.

So, we would try to stop providing reinforcement for those kinds of things (which can be very complicated, because the reinforcement will certainly vary based on what the behavior is and other factors, as well). But, in consideration of a related concept called “the matching law” which basically states that someone’s behavior (what they do) will be based on the relative reinforcement that they receive for that behavior compared to another behavior, we can try to provide as little attention, as little access to preferred toys or activities, and as little escape from demands (like directions or chores) when undesired behavior occurs.

On the other hand, provide as much attention and praise as you can (within reason) for preferred behavior, such as your kids cleaning up their toys or playing nicely with each other. Also, ensure that access to new toys or preferred activities is only provided when preferred behaviors occurred right before the access to toys/activities and not right after undesired behavior. So, basically, you don’t want to let your son play with his new remote control car if he just punched his sister.

Regarding your own behaviors, provide reinforcement by giving yourself preferred activities or a break from chores or a yummy snack after preferred behaviors, such as doing the dishes or vaccuuming the floor. Don’t expect too much of yourself (such as cleaning the whole house in one long burst of effort, unless you truly are that kind of a person, which is amazing, but most people would just exhaust themselves and make cleaning become a daunting task).

Another example is to ignore and don’t put too much thought into your negative self-talk (such as thinking negative comments about the messy house or how other people might not be helping you).

I hope this information was helpful for you as you attempt your recovery from the holidays. Again, I know we should all be grateful for the wonderful gifts of family and friends, but holidays do seem to come with a bit of stress, as well.

Please let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions for how to recover from the holidays.

Thanks for reading.

[image credit: mario beauregard via Fotalia]

3 Science-Based Tips for Recovering from the Holidays

APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2015). 3 Science-Based Tips for Recovering from the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 17, 2019, from