This post was written by Sakshi Kapur, PsyD, post-doctoral psychologist, Park Center, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute.
Holidays are a time filled with joy, laughter and family, with many participating in traditions and memory-making to last a lifetime. But for the holidays to be that memorable, parents and caregivers usually have to put in a lot of work behind the scenes so their children can experience the wonder and magic of Christmas for years to come. This usually means dealing with long to-do lists, budgeting for gifts and travel, and making an appearance at various social gatherings. Adhering to all these expectations can create an immense amount of stress.
Children are good at picking up on parental stress and tiredness cues. They also tend to thrive with routines and structure. However, the holidays have a way of disrupting the stability and predictability of their days. These disruptions can manifest in many things, including:
- Different bedtimes
- Increased intake of sugary treats
- Sharing space with visiting family members
- Behavioral pressure and the need to be friendly at get-togethers
Additionally, going through the holiday season in a post-pandemic world can bring up a lot of feelings and emotions for children (and adults), especially for anyone who’s lost loved ones and has to experience the holidays without them.
Knowing this, many often wonder what they can do to help prepare themselves and their children for the holidays. Try incorporating one or all of these stress-relieving tips to help set yourself and your littles up for success this season.
Tip No. 1 – Set clear expectations
The holiday season is hectic and loaded with a variety of different activities. The hectic nature of holidays can be overwhelming for most little ones. Talking to them about what the day will look like and what to expect before heading out of the house is a good way to help them feel more prepared for what they will experience.
An important conversation to have with your children also includes a discussion about boundaries. It is not a good idea to insist or force your child to give hugs or kisses to any relative or adult family and friends. When forcing a child to show affection, the implicit message that gets communicated to them is that they are not in control of their bodies, and affection and love are conditional.
There are multiple ways of showing respect and affection that do not involve physical touch. Creating a rule or an expectation for your children that they are in charge of their bodies and do not have to engage in physical contact is an excellent way to teach them body autonomy and healthy boundaries.
It is also a good idea to intervene on behalf of your child if you hear a relative or a family friend say something like, “I won’t let you have a cookie unless you give me a hug first.” You can step in and remind your child that she doesn’t have to do it. You can also give them options like “Would you like to give a hug, or do you prefer just to wave goodbye?” Make it clear to your child that it is okay for them to say no. You may need to educate your friends, family members, and other visitors that you do not force your child to be affectionate, and they should respect your child's decision if they decline physical contact.
Tip No. 2 – Provide coping mechanisms
Doing this can be especially helpful for introverted children and children with sensory issues. Giving them coping exercises for feeling overwhelmed can help prevent potential meltdowns. This could include deep breathing, exercising the five senses, and building a comfort kit with items like fidget spinners, sensory glitter bottles, noise-canceling headphones, soothing music, coloring pages or puzzles to distract them.
Tip No. 3 – Find outlets for energy
Planning for moments to release pent-up energy can be especially helpful for extroverted children or those who need physical activity to feel regulated. Giving these children an outlet for energy will help make situations where they need to sit for long periods easier for them and you. Ways to expend that energy could include playing in the snow, going for a walk or even taking a short bike ride with them.
Tip No. 4 – Plan resting times
Being proactive and intentional about planning downtime can help children feel more regulated and give them a healthy and productive way of coping with the stress of the holidays. Given the hectic nature of all the hustle and bustle, it's essential to look for ways to insert purposeful rest times into your schedule. Try creating a specific area of your home that uses sensory-friendly lighting, comfort kits, and other coping tools to give your child a space to retreat to where they can calm themselves down.