The holidays often lead to disruption of our kids’ basic routines including school, naps, meals and sleep. There are family outings, special treats, shopping expeditions and visits to relatives. The stores are crowded and there is traffic everywhere. Adults are charging around making holiday preparations. All of this can lead to irritability and exhaustion for the adults while taking its toll on our children.
Unfortunately, children are less equipped to handle this stress because they haven't yet developed the necessary coping skills. They won’t say, “ Mom, I’ve had enough fun, sweets and presents. I think I’ll skip the party this afternoon, I need a nap.”
As parents we need to consider our children and their needs as we develop a strategy to help them enjoy a memorable and calm holiday experience.
Here are a few basic tips to help your children enjoy a less stressful holiday period.
First and foremost, try to make sure the kids get plenty of rest, eat well and stick to routines as much as possible. Have reasonable age appropriate expectations
- Decide which gatherings to attend and whether or not it makes sense to bring the kids.
- Don’t expect a 2 year old to sit at an adult holiday dinner table for more time than they can handle. Hopefully there is a children’s table and you've brought some coloring books or other engaging material.
- If you are traveling, anticipate delays and be prepared with extra food, activities, clothing and patience.
- When things don’t go as planned, try to model your excellent coping skills by verbalizing how you are handling the stress. “ I’m feeling stressed, I’m going to take a walk, or do some deep breathing”, whatever calms you down.
- Try not to criticize the in laws and family, as the children will pick up on the tension and may feel conflicted about their loyalties.
- Volunteer somewhere or participate in giving to others so the spirit of the holiday is not lost in the tinsel.
- Schedule down time with your kids to counterbalance the holiday frenzy. Figure out what helps your child de-stress, (playing in the park, reading, watching a movie, listening to music) and do it with them.
Embrace the reality that things will not be perfect. The children will fight, someone will spill red wine on the carpet, and you may not get the holiday cards out. That’s okay.
If there has been a recent change in family circumstances like separation or divorce, the death of a loved one, a recent move or change in financial circumstances these additional events will add more stress to their holiday. You need to be watchful for symptoms of stress and be supportive if this is the case. Listening to their concerns is very helpful. Have a wonderful imperfect holiday. Relax. Think about what feelings, thoughts and memories you want to cultivate around the holiday and share them with your family.
Your children will not remember an exhausting list of activities but they will remember sharing in family traditions that have special meaning to you.
Stephanie Raia, MSW,LCSW
© 2012 Stephanie Raia, LCSW.