Thoughtful Parenting: Managing holiday stress
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
For young kids, winter break and the holidays signal sheer excitement. In an ideal world, it’s a two week span of time to finish holiday preparations, participate in festive activities and celebrate with friends and family. In reality, this time of year can be marked by exhaustion, depletion, disruption and meltdowns.
Pressure to please and perform can leave us feeling anxious. Our children pick up on our anxiety and react to it by acting out or in ways not typical for them. To help your children enjoy the holidays, set realistic goals and expectations for yourself. Say “no” to perfectionism. Decline a few invitations. Remember that excitement is not necessarily happiness.
Without the structure of school schedules and the comfort of routines, your kids will need more from you, not less. Extra holiday desserts and later bedtimes can contribute to lower impulse control and more meltdowns. Incorporate some consistency throughout the holidays to help your kids stay grounded. Communicate with your kids, so they know what to expect and can feel a sense of control.
Gifts are a big part of many holiday traditions. Kids can experience anticipatory anxiety, and talk about Santa or the Elf on the Shelf can become overwhelming when it’s directly linked to good behavior. Misbehaving is a normal part of the developmental process, and the concept of being constantly watched can evoke apprehension.
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For little kids, fewer gifts are better than more. If we overdo it, kids can experience an adrenaline rush they may not be able to control. This can look like ingratitude with whining and crying, but it’s really just too much stimulation to process at one time. For older kids, it’s normal to feel disappointment when they don’t get the presents they expected. Open dialogue about gift ideas and appropriate reactions to undesirable presents ahead of time can help reduce their emotional unease.
Holiday stress in kids may look like the following.
- Children experiencing stress may be more withdrawn.
- They may experience behavioral regression and/or more frequent tantrums.
- They may be more emotional or less interested.
- They may have physical complaints, like stomachaches and headaches.
- They may bite their nails, chew clothes or pull out their hair.
Deirdre Pepin is the Resource Development Coordinator at Horizons Specialized Services. If your child is under age 3 and you have questions about his or her development, contact Child & Family Services Coordinator Michelle Hoza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-871-8558.
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