The holidays are supposed to be a happy time for kids and families; a season filled with wonder and joy. However, this can be very challenging time of year. Some families may become more stressed during the holidays due to busy schedules, parties, family gatherings and less outdoor time to play due to inclement weather.
Kids 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- Children experiencing stress during the holidays may seem more withdrawn.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.
- Stomachaches and headaches are a common complaint when kids are stressed.
- Nervous behaviors may take hold, such as biting nails, chewing clothing or pulling on their own hair.
- Some kids may experience more frequent tantrums or regress in other infantile behaviors such as bedwetting or using baby talk. They may also seem less interested in activities that they usually look forward to doing.
Tips for Reducing Your Family’s Holiday Stress
Try to Keep Kids On a Regular Routine
During the holiday season, routines are often disrupted by family gatherings, school programs and other special events. Regular 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, such as during an evening party, encourage your child to bring a favorite toy, book or blanket along with them. You may choose to pack pajamas and a toothbrush for your child when you know you won’t be arriving home until late. This way you can get your kids ready for bed and if they fall asleep in the car on the way home, they can be carried to bed upon arrival, already prepared for a good night’s rest.
Consider Your Family’s Priorities
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 get together. 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.
Make Time for Downtime
Intentionally schedule downtime for your family. Children need time to relax and restore. Parents do, too! Use this 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 travel, it’s tempting to let fast food become the standard versus an occasional treat. In order to combat this temptation:
- Consider bringing a fruit or veggie tray 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 feature loads of sweets, be sure to offer your kids healthier meals earlier in the day.
- Staying hydrated is important. Pack water bottles when you’re out and about during the holidays … and remember to take water breaks!
Get Your Kids Moving with Exercise!
Offer opportunities for you and your kids to spend time outdoors playing and working up a sweat. Sledding and snow fort-building are rigorous activities 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.)
Do Your Best to Stay Merry & Bright
Finally, don’t forget to have some fun and laugh this holiday season! Children often take their cues from their parents–if you aren’t having fun, they probably aren’t either. Take time to watch a holiday movie together, play in the snow, decorate and truly take delight in the wonder of the season.
When to Consider Getting Help
If anxiety or stress symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, consider contacting your pediatrician or calling Pine Rest at 866.852.4001.