The holiday season can be a joyous and enjoyable time for you and your family, but it can also be an extremely busy one, commonly adding extra holiday stress and anxiety to children during school vacations. During this time of year, there are lots of fun and meaningful activities going on, both at home and at school. While that can be a positive thing for kids, enriching their lives with much-loved traditions and rituals, the reality is that sometimes in all the hustle and bustle, their schedules and routines are disrupted, bedtimes are pushed back, and social skills are put to the test.
So how can easily frustrated or anxious children (and parents) survive this season in one piece? Here are some seasonal tips for helping children and their parents enjoy this time of year.
Remember the importance of routines.
Kids love the holidays because they provide a much-needed break from school and everyday schedules, but, at the same time, that can also tack on additional stress, especially for kids who find routine comforting. Try to keep some things constant, such as snack time or plenty of time to unwind before bedtime. But if you have an event or a family gathering that forces the schedule to go completely off track, try to get routines back on course as soon as possible. For example, if you are out late for a function past your child’s bedtime, try to stick to quiet, calm activities the next day and get your child to bed on time the next night.
Plan ahead to set up conditions for good behavior.
For kids who are easily over-stimulated or sensitive to things like noise and crowds, it would be helpful to arrange another room or place for them to go when they need a break. If things get too stressful during family gatherings, this will provide a place to take a pause and regroup. Just having a place to go to be quiet when things are too overwhelming or intense for them may be very useful, and help keep the social engagement from becoming unmanageable for them.
Also, it might be helpful to avoid taking your child to places like the mall or holiday gatherings when he is hungry or tired. As difficult as it is for even adults to function well with noise and lots of stimulation when they’re especially tired, hungry or not feeling their best, the same is true for kids, who become hungry and tired more often and more easily than adults, and may have a difficult time being at their best behavior under these conditions.
Avoid over scheduling.
As appealing as it may be to accept every invitation for social engagements for your family, particularly for your kids, try to limit holiday parties and activities so that you and your child are not overwhelmed. A couple of events over the holiday break may be completely fine, but having a commitment most days of the vacation can lead to extra stress and anxiety in children.
Keep kids occupied.
Kids, particularly kids prone to anxiety, do well with structure and this includes structured activities. Chances are, they will be missing the structure that comes from their regular routines while school is out, so now is an opportunity to help engage them in holiday art projects or family-friendly movies that they’ll enjoy. You may even be able to start new holiday family traditions that include baking or other crafty projects.
If you are traveling for an extended period of time during your child’s holiday break, make sure to pack multiple activities for him to do, and plan for plenty of breaks.
It may also be helpful to keep your child moving to help with anxiety and holiday stress. Fresh air and exercise can boost his mood and allow him to run around and play to get a much-needed break.
Keep an eye on your child’s diet.
Along with the change in your child’s normal routine can come a change in your child’s healthy diet. Add in the extra sugary holiday foods and the lack of time to engage in family meals regularly, and it can be easy for kids to eat less healthy foods, which can add to the holiday stress and anxiety they experience. Whenever possible, offer healthy snacks, especially when traveling, and try to limit the sweet stuff and extra treats.
Set a calm example and manage your own expectations.
Perhaps one of the best things you can do to help relieve anxiety in your children during the holidays is by trying to keep things as relaxed as possible. The way you as a parent handle an issue or stressful situation can set the tone for how your kids will behave. If you let holiday stress get to you, your kids will definitely pick up on it.
Along these lines, it also may be helpful to manage your expectations of how your children “should” be at holiday gatherings or how you want them to behave during their holiday break. You may expect them to be able to sit at the table quietly and eat an entire holiday meal, but that might not be reality. Be realistic with your expectations, give your kids the space to not be perfect, and appreciate the ways in which they find joy and contentment in the things that make them happy this holiday season.
Furthermore, a great remedy for the stress that comes at this time of year is to remind your child what the holidays are all about – helping others and giving back. In doing this, you could help alleviate a lot of the unnecessary stress for both you and your family.
Lee, K. (2015). “Holiday Stress and Anxiety in Children.” About Parenting. Retrieved November 17, 2015 from www.childparenting.about.com.
Ehmke, R. (2015). “The Family Gathering: A Survival Guide – How to help your kids be at their best and have fun, too.” Child Mind Institute. Retrieved November 17, 2015 from www.childmind.org.