10 Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress for Your Kids
The holidays are a time for joy and family but they also often bring a mixture of stress and anxiety. There are more social gatherings to attend, gifts to buy, and traveling both near and far. You and your children have likely felt the hecticness that can arise around this time. Fortunately, using some practical strategies can reduce holiday stress and help your whole family enjoy more of the season.
Why are the holidays stressful for kids?
Children can become overwhelmed by aspects of the holidays just like adults do. They may struggle with dealing with changes to their routines and additional commitments. Their schedules become filled with traveling to see extended family, school events, and semester finals. You can’t eliminate all of these challenges for your children. However, you can lessen their discomfort and help them learn to manage their stress.
Here are 10 ways to support your children by reducing stress over the holidays.
Adjust your expectations
As a parent, you’ve likely felt pressure to create perfect memories during this time of the year. You need to get everyone the right gifts and attend every work, school, and family party. You can help yourself and your children by setting realistic expectations. More than likely, your children won’t be on their best behavior, 100% of the time. You'll probably be late to something, you’ll forget something from your to-do list, or extended family time may not go as well as you’d hoped.
When you feel pressured to strive for perfection, you'll end up feeling stressed. Your children will pick up on that. As much as possible, try to let go of (or hold lightly) the need to make everything perfect. Instead, aim for flexibility this season. Try selecting a few aspects of the holidays to prioritize that are important to you and your children.
Schedules typically become hectic at the end of October and stay that way through the end of December. They’re filled with fun events like parties, festivals, and concerts, as well as end-of-the-year obligations at work and school. If your family travels over the holidays, that can also throw off your child's schedule.
When possible, try to stick to your children’s normal routines, including bedtime, naps, and quiet time. If you usually have family dinners or a time to catch up with one another during the week, try to keep some of those on your schedule.
Prepare your children for change
Of course, while you try to keep your children's routines intact, changes to the schedule during this season may be inevitable. Prepare your children ahead of time. Let them know what to expect, such as where you’ll be going, when, for how long, and who else will be there. Kids want to know what’s going to happen just like you do. It reduces uncertainty and helps them feel more prepared and in control. This also helps set them up for behavioral success.
Keep your kids active
Physical activity is a great way to manage stress. Both children and adults often become less active during the winter months. The weather is colder, the days are shorter, and more social commitments revolve around sedentary activities. Incorporate ways for your kids to move their bodies throughout the day. This might look like dance breaks, family walks, bike rides, at-home obstacle courses, or open gym time at sports complexes. Brainstorm with your children to come up with ways for them to stay active that they’d enjoy.
Build in breaks
Schedules fill up quickly with various obligations this time of year. You can help your children enjoy events by building in rest time and breaks for your family. That way your children aren’t overstimulated before they even get to the event. This might look like taking your toddler outside to run around right before it’s time to sit down for a holiday meal. Or ensuring your child gets their regular nap in while visiting family. You could schedule rest days before and after busy days filled with activities.
Don’t forget to take a break yourself! When you rush all season to meet everyone else’s needs and wishes, you can end up exhausted and burned out.
Talk about feelings
Emotions such as grief, disappointment, or anger can arise for children during the holidays. When difficult emotions come up for your kids, validate the feelings and provide space for them to talk about it. For example, you might say, “you’re really missing your dad right now,” or “you’re frustrated that we’re going to Aunt Stacy’s house.”
Avoid minimizing your child’s feelings. Examples of dismissive statements include, “It’s Christmas, you should be happy,” or “Why are you sad, you have so much to be grateful for.” While you’re intending to pull them out of their sadness or disappointment, this typically has the opposite effect, and results in them feeling alone with painful feelings. It’s best to acknowledge what they’re feeling and give them the space to process it. This will help them feel heard and connected to you.
Spend time with your kids
Children enjoy gifts, but the intentional time that you spend with them is often what they’ll remember the most. Communicate to your children that you love them and enjoy spending time with them. Let them pick out activities for you to do together that they enjoy. It can be as simple as watching a movie, playing basketball, decorating cookies, or playing a video game together. Even wrapping presents or decorating for a holiday can be something fun to do together.
Don’t over schedule
While some of your loved ones may be disappointed, it may be important for your child's well-being to turn down an invitation or two. It’s difficult for kids to enjoy and manage their behavior when they’re exhausted. This can happen if they're going from one event to the next. Even extroverted children need time to be at home, relax, and have free time.
Help others together
Build in ways to help other people together as a family. This can look like getting gifts for others or volunteering together. You could also brainstorm with them about ways to help each family member feel loved over the holidays. Helping others together gives you opportunities to connect with your children. It also cultivates a sense of gratitude in your home.
Protect your children’s boundaries
Children do not need to hug or kiss family members that they don’t want to. Avoid forcing or asking your children to give physical affection to other people. Teach your children that they determine their boundaries and don't have to hug or kiss other family members.
As their parent, you’ll likely need to be the one to set and guard that boundary with other adults. Family members may feel entitled to physical affection from your children. It often feels difficult for a child to turn down an adult, especially a family member. You can use phrases such as,
- "They don't want a hug right now."
- “They said to stop tickling them.”
When you protect your child’s boundaries you communicate to them:
- Your physical and emotional safety is important.
- Other people should respect your boundaries.
- I’m here to keep you safe.
Does your child need more support navigating stress and anxiety this holiday season?
Handspring Health is here to support you and your child. Our team of therapists provides high-quality mental health care for children, adolescents, and young adults. We provide evidence-based treatment tailored to your child’s unique needs and strengths. Schedule a free consultation today.