Stress Relief for the Holidays
David Causey, Ph.D. – Square One: Specialists in Child & Adolescent Development
Although the holiday season is supposed to be a time of fun and happy anticipation, it can also be a time of stress with children. Later bed times, holiday sweets, traveling between relatives’ homes, commercial after commercial that turns “wants” into “needs”, unmet expectations, and too much “screen time” with video games/computers are factors that contribute to stress in children during the holidays. There is not one simple way to ensure a carefree holiday, but the following suggestions may help.
1) Start by monitoring your own expectations for the holidays and by reducing your own stress if you can. Most children are very attuned to stress levels in their parents. As your stress level rises or falls, so will your child’s. In the event that this may be a particularly hard holiday season (e.g., first holiday without a loved one, substantial economic stress), you might consider talking with your children about their own thoughts or feelings about it. You may be surprised how much they are thinking about it too.
2) Let your child enjoy the break from the tight scheduling of a school week, but be sure to maintain some routine as well. In other words, allow them to have some freedoms that they may not typically have during school, but don’t make it a “free for all” either. Reasonable bed times, proper nutrition, and reasonable limitations on television and video games may all help to reduce the occurrence of stress, while also easing the transition back into school after the holidays. It is usually wise to discuss your guidelines about privileges at the beginning of the break so that your children know what to expect and aren’t caught off guard.
3) Don’t over-schedule! Many families are REALLY good at being way too busy during the holidays. Remember, it really is OK to say “No” to some activities or even adult “obligations” during the holidays and not feel guilty. As a father, I know that some of my most relaxing, enjoyable, and memorable holidays were ones in which, for one reason or another, my family was “stuck” at home rather than traveling to see others or going from one place to another.
4) Last, but not least, take time to slow down, turn off the TV, and spend time with your children, so they know how important they are to you. Gifts are great, but focused time with your children does the most for building relationships and self esteem. One of my most memorable holiday moments was an evening spent with my daughter, putting up lights in the front yard and drinking hot chocolate together afterward! For your own family, maybe create a new family tradition, bake some cookies together, drive around to look at lights, or play some games…it really doesn’t matter, just make the time to do something!