The holidays are supposed to be a “happy” time for children and families; a season filled with wonder and joy. However, for some families the holidays can be very challenging. Some families may become more stressed during the holidays due to busy schedules, holiday parties, family gatherings and less outdoor time to play due to colder weather. Children in particular are sensitive to the changes in routine that may occur during the holidays and the resulting stress on the family.
Warning Signs of Too Much Stress in Kids
- Children experiencing stress during the holidays may seem more withdrawn.
- They may appear to be more emotional and tearful or not themselves.
- They may complain of stomachaches and headaches.
- They may exhibit behaviors such as biting their nails, chewing clothing or pulling out their hair.
- Some children may experience more frequent tantrums or regress in other behaviors such as bedwetting or using baby talk. They may also seem less interested in activities that they once looked forward to doing.
Hints for Reducing Your Family’s Holiday Stress
During the holiday season, routines are often disrupted by holiday gatherings, school programs and community events. Routines make children feel safe and can help reduce anxiety. Consider keeping routines as typical as possible.
Bedtime routines are particularly important since high quality sleep is essential to being able to cope with stress. When this is not an option, encourage your child to bring a favorite toy, book or blanket along with them. Some families choose to pack pajamas and a toothbrush for their child when they know they will not be able to arrive home until after their usual bed time. This way they can get their children ready for bed and if they fall asleep in the car on the way home, they can be carried to bed upon arrival, and are already prepared for a good night’s rest.
When invited to yet another holiday function, consider if it is a priority for your family. It’s ok to say “no” and to give yourself and your family permission not to participate in every cookie swap or ugly sweater party. Take a moment to think about what traditions are most important to you and your family and prioritize them. Over-scheduling your family will likely cause you as the parent to feel stressed which can make it more difficult for you to manage your own emotions while parenting your children.
Intentionally schedule downtime for your family. Children need time to relax and restore. Parents do, too! Use the time to check in with each other and to reflect on the reason for the season.
With all the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping and getting to the post office to send out cards, fast food may become the standard versus an occasional treat.
- Consider bringing fruit or veggie trays to an event if you are expected to bring a dish to pass. Then make sure your family takes advantage of what you’ve brought.
- If you expect a holiday dinner may be filled with loads of sweets, ensure that your children were offered healthier meals earlier in the day.
- Staying hydrated is also important. Don’t forget to pack water bottles when you will be out and about during the holidays and remember to take breaks to drink up!
Offer opportunities for you and your children to spend time outdoors playing and burning off those Christmas cookies. Sledding can be an amusing activity that can wear down anxieties and make falling asleep at bedtime a bit easier (something many children find difficult during this season due to all of the excitement and merriment).
Merry & Bright
Finally, don’t forget to have some fun and laugh this holiday season. Children often take their cues from their parents and if you aren’t having fun, they probably aren’t either. Take time to watch a holiday comedy, play in the snow and truly take delight in the wonder of this Christmas season.
When to Get Help
If your child’s symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, consider contacting your pediatrician or calling Pine Rest at 866.852.4001.
Amanda Shaneberger, MA, LPC is a limited licensed psychologist and licensed professional counselor specializing in work with children, adolescents and their families at the Pine Rest Northwest Clinic. Amanda is a registered play therapist and has an endorsement in Infant Mental Health, meaning she has experience working with young children and parents making the transition into parenthood. She is an active member of the Michigan Association for Play Therapy and a member of the local Postpartum Emotional Support Program.