If you’ve talked to any parents during the holiday season, you’ve probably noticed some trends. This time of year, we’re all overwhelmed. Commitments seem endless, our kids are overwhelmed with excitement for the season, our calendars fill up and it’s all we can do to juggle everything. In fact, sometimes the most wonderful time of the year can start to feel like the most stressful time of the year—but it doesn’t have to!
Getting ahead of the holiday challenges and setting some basic expectations can be a huge help in managing the inevitable stress of the season. Here are some ways to set your family up for a happier holiday:
- Validate your kids. This time of year our children are bouncing off the walls with excitement—and rather than reprimanding our kids for being more energetic or more difficult to redirect than usual, it can help to validate those feelings of excitement. Talk to your kids about their feelings during the holidays; acknowledge that it’s hard to wait to unwrap that gift they’re expecting, or talk about how it’s harder to stay focused in school in the weeks leading up to winter break. Sometimes just knowing that we understand helps ease some of that holiday restlessness.
- Stick to routines as much as possible. Kids are creatures of habit, and they thrive on routines, even when they are basic. Try to stick to usual bedtimes and mealtimes during the holidays—a sleepy or hungry child is always more likely to act out than a child who is well-rested and fed.
- Spend time together as a family. Waiting for Christmas, winter break, or another single holiday celebration is a lot of anticipation for kids and teens. Try scheduling some other special events that your kids can enjoy during the holiday season, such as caroling, visiting a holiday display or even volunteering. It can also help to follow some holiday traditions, such as an advent calendar or an “Elf on the Shelf.” Give your kids little things to look forward to throughout the season.
- Include your kids in the holiday preparations. Children love to feel included, and feeling like a part of the planning can actually alleviate some normal anxiety kids may have about the holidays. Invite your children to bake with you, share gift ideas for family members and loved ones, or to help you wrap. This can be great bonding time with your kids and invites discussion between parent and child.
- Set expectations. Talk to your kids about what to expect during the holidays. Maybe that means discussing the plan for school break, or about any special custody arrangements during the holidays. Knowing what to expect is another way to help our kids to feel included and manage their feelings about the days ahead.
- Take a break. The best parents are happy parents, so take care of you too! Find time during the holidays to step away and meet your own needs too. Maybe that means getting a babysitter and setting aside time for an activity you enjoy—but for some busy parents, it may be as simple as an hour or two alone to complete shopping or other errands. However you unwind, finding that time to decompress is important.
These tips can help your family find balance this season—but for some families, it can be more challenging than just juggling the excitement and normal stressors of the season. For families who have experienced a recent loss or separation, or who struggle with underlying behavioral health concerns, the holidays can be even more difficult. In these instances, it can help to seek out additional resources. If you find that you or your family members are struggling to manage your mood or emotions through the holidays, consider talking to a licensed mental health professional. A therapist can help your family work through bigger challenges you may be facing this season.
Katie Adams, LISCW, is the Director of Mental Health Services at Harrington HealthCare. She currently oversees mental health and therapy services in south central Massachusetts and will be assisting in the opening of a new lifespan mental health clinic in Putnam, CT in early 2018. To learn more about Harrington’s Behavioral Health Department, please click here.