“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel."
—A Charlie Brown Christmas
Adults know that the holidays are stressful. Between addressing greetings cards, shopping for gifts, financial woes as a result of said shopping, cooking, cleaning (overnight guests, anyone?) . . . good grief! We may long to change places with the “carefree” children in our lives—but the holidays can be an anxious and stressful time for kids too.
During the holidays, routines are disrupted, nutritious meals may be replaced with fast food, and bedtimes get delayed. Children and youth are also sensitive to the stress their caregivers are experiencing. Peace between family members may be disrupted. The holidays may also invoke painful memories for some children, who may be missing a deceased relative or remembering a past family crisis.
Caregivers and educators should be aware of the signs of stress in children. Symptoms of stress will vary depending on the age of the child or youth, but the following is a list of signs to watch forfrom the Crisis Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Resource Center of the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention:
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Complaining or exhibiting physical symptoms, such as head- or stomachaches, rashes, or asthma flare-ups
- Regressing in behaviors or habits—bed wetting, thumb sucking, nail biting, etc.
- Exhibiting strong emotions or emotional swings—crying or laughing, being agitated or edgy, worrying, lacking energy
- Displaying anti-social behavior (withdrawal or isolation, aggression), or excessive attachment (being extra clingy or needy) in younger children
- Showing signs of addictive behavior, such as overeating or using alcohol or other drugs
So, what can you do to manage the craziness? Here are some tips for families on reducing holiday stress among children:
- Prioritize holiday activities and avoid overscheduling. Keeping routines as regular as possible will help kids avoid stress and anxiety. Discuss special plans with kids so they know what to expect, especially if a big trip is planned.
- Avoid too much excitement. We love to see kids excited and enjoying the magic of the holidays, but too much excitement can be stressful for them. Minimize trips to the mall and make sure that children have some quiet time to relax and unwind.
- Keep an eye on kids’ sleep schedules. As we all know, tired kids are cranky kids. With all of the hustle and bustle, make sure the little ones are still getting the sleep they need.
- Limit TV and video games.When parents are busy, the TV, iPad/iPhone, and the like can be an easy way to distract kids in order to find a few more minutes, but screen time reduces time for the physical activity that helps children stay healthy and reduces stress.
- Keep a calm demeanor. Since children often model what they see, you may want to check the mirror if the kids are especially crazy. Some sound ways to reduce your own holiday stress are to avoid overspending, be realistic about what you can accomplish and what needs to be let go, and to get the rest you need.
Holiday activities bring joy, fun, and lasting memories to children and adults alike. We hope your holiday is as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. Please provide any additional thoughts and comments on managing holiday stress below.