The countdown to the holiday season has begun. Holiday decorations are up, the malls are packed, and your calendar is full. Although the holidays are a time that we typically look forward to, it can also be a stressful time for many families. The busyness and rush to get everything done can make parents feel a little crazed… which can make our kids feel that way, too.
Children need consistency, stability, and routine: the exact opposite of that the holiday season has to offer. The following tips will help children, and in turn, help the whole family, feel a little less stressed during this busy time of year:
- Don’t overschedule: Try to keep with your routine as much as possible. If you have young children, plan time for naps and relaxation into your day. If you have school-aged children, pick one or two holiday events to attend as a family. You don’t have to cram everything into a single year.
- Be realistic about holiday gifts: Very small children don’t need or want lots of gifts. A new board book, a cuddly stuffed animal, and a toy for being active (like building blocks) is plenty. Limit yourself to four or five gifts for older children. Take turns opening gifts to allow time to savor the gifts you have chosen for each other. Let your hard-to-shop-for teenager shop for his or her gifts with you.
- Spend time together as a family: Rushing from event to event leaves little time for you to truly savor the spirit of the season. Plan an afternoon to watch a favorite holiday movie, decorate cookies, or dance to or sing favorite music at home!
- Be aware of what your family is eating: Prepare a small meal or healthy snack for your child before going to a dinner party. Indulge in treats in moderation.
- Be aware of bedtimes and transition periods: It is difficult for children to transition from a party and be expected to go straight to bed. Plan to spend at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime allowing your child to wind down. Give them time to take a bath, read stories, and sit and talk with you about your day. Lower the lights to bring down the energy level. Also, give warnings of transition periods to help avoid meltdowns.
- Call a truce during the holiday season: If you are divorced, take a break from complaints and arguments… for your kids’ sake and yours. Your children are keenly aware of the tension between you. Try to keep things friendly and light.
- Introduce your child to mindfulness techniques: Model breathing techniques (breathe in and then let the air out saying, “aaaah”), visualize putting feelings in bubbles and watch them float away, make positive affirmations about what they are grateful for and what they like about themselves and others.
Finally, think about your own holiday experiences from your childhood. The holiday season presents a window of opportunity to model lessons of appreciation and gratitude. “What we say and do and how we go about conducting our daily affairs sets a permanent mark in our children’s conscious and subconscious minds. It is easy to see how impressionable children are as we reflect back on our own childhood experiences,” says Dr. Ansari, Director of the Center for Learning and Behavioral Solutions. “Ask yourself: How often do we genuinely express, both with our words and in our daily actions, our gratitude for all the blessings, no matter how small or big?”
Dr. Ansari recommends taking this mindset: I am in control of my own holiday season. It’s easy to want to blame others, or outside circumstances for the stress I am feeling, but the truth is most stress is a direct or indirect result of a choice that I have made.
This season, staying mindful about your surroundings, decisions, commitments and self are the key to reducing stress during the holidays. We hope you enjoy the season for all it’s meant to be.