The holiday season is a time to make and share delicious food, exchange gifts and enjoy cherished traditions. But for many families, the "happiest time of the year" also means unmanageable stress.
Year-end schedules are often crammed with social events that place extreme demands on our time. We may feel pressured to splurge on gifts and travel even if our budgets are tight or take part in community activities that claim too much of our personal and family energy.
These challenges can be hard to handle, even if you and your kids are in good health. Here are 5 suggestions for navigating holiday stress that can help your family feel more balanced (and possibly a little more joyful, too).
1. Acknowledge where you are right now.
After years of pandemic-related restrictions, many families are looking forward to celebrating a "normal holiday" season. But your family might not be ready for the full round of festivities. Maybe you're feeling the absence of loved ones lost to COVID-19, which conflicts with the idea we're supposed to be merry and bright all season long. We know that more than
250,000 kids age 18 and under in the United States experienced the
death of a parent or grandparent caregiver from pandemic-related causes. Or perhaps your child is still recovering from
depression and other mental health challenges that deepened during lockdown.
If you or your child aren't feeling great right now, give yourselves permission to rewrite the holiday script. What pleasurable activities do you want to keep — and which ones would you prefer to skip this time around? Making these choices together can form a foundation of healthy mutual support.
2. Keep your calendar manageable (and your explanations simple).
The pressure to celebrate with everyone from your child's soccer team to your work colleagues can make the holidays feel rushed and chaotic. Choose the ones you can reasonably handle and decline the rest without guilt. If you experience pushback, simply say, "That sounds like a great time, but we've got something else going on." Keep in mind that long-distance visits and other travel can be rescheduled, giving the family something to look forward to in the new year.
3. Prioritize family health.
family routines can help you cultivate a sense of peace amid the holiday rush. Make time for exercise, healthy meals and plenty of sleep (including naps, especially for little ones).
Pay attention to how much time you and your kids are
spending on screens. Replace digital entertainment with simple pleasures, like sipping hot cocoa together or taking a walk in the fresh air. It's also a great time to try new ways to relax, like
meditation. Above all, give your family room to slow down and simply "be."
4. Watch for signs that kids need extra support.
The holiday hubbub can make a child's mood swings more intense. Toddlers may experience
meltdowns as missed naps and sugary snacks push them toward overstimulation. Older children may feel anxious about fitting in and feeling accepted as social media channels explode with images of holiday parties and gift-giving.
Let your child know that you understand, and that you are there if and when they need to talk. Here are suggestions for talking with your tween or teen about pressures to
experiment with drugs, alcohol or
sex, which may intensify over the winter school break. Let your kids know you're open to conversations about tough subjects, no matter how busy things get.
5. Emphasize the simple, positive side of giving.
The notion that we need to spend thousands of dollars celebrating the holidays can paint parents and families into an uncomfortable corner. Parents may feel pressure to borrow money or use credit cards for gifts, special outfits, decorations and more. This pattern can backfire as the New Year (and the overdue bills) arrive.
Keep in mind that
financial stress is never healthy for your family. Set a positive example for your children by setting a holiday budget and sticking to it. One special gift can be as meaningful as dozens of shiny packages, especially if you make this part of your family's thinking about holiday happiness.
Consider talking with your kids about the deeper meaning of the season, focusing on ways to give that can bring a special kind of joy. You don't need to make big donations to charities or volunteer hundreds of hours to make a difference. It might mean something as simple as running errands for a neighbor who could use an extra hand or inviting a friend's children over to play so they can finish up holiday chores. Ask your kids for ideas and find ways to pursue them together.
Your pediatrician is there to support you
If your child's health is suffering right now, take time to explore what's happening.
Sleep problems, major changes in eating habits, or low moods that persist for more than 2 weeks are legitimate concerns that your pediatrician can help with.
Schedule a time to talk now, rather than waiting until after the holidays, especially if you are seeing signs of anxiety, depression or
self-harm. Your pediatrician can help you figure out the treatment and support your child needs to regain their balance.
Don't hesitate to
talk with your child and their pediatrician if you have any concerns about mental health.