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The holidays can be a hectic time for children, some tips for parents to help them manage the stress

Dr. Meghan Marsac
University of Kentucky

The holiday season, while joyful, can sometimes be a time of stress, meltdowns and disappointments. As parents, it can sometimes feel like we are spinning in circles trying to create the best holiday experience for our kids, family and self. Read on for a few challenges that many kids and families face during the holidays, and some tips for how to help children cope with the holiday season.

Challenge 1: Changes in routine. Generally, kids do best when they know what to expect and have a general routine in place. Some kids are more sensitive to changes in schedules or routines than others. During the holidays, kids are often out of school and routines are adjusted or abandoned as families work together to plan gatherings and attend special events.

(NKyTribune file)

Strategy: Make a plan for the day or keep part of a routine throughout the holiday season. Consider having a plan each day to share with your children so that they can prepare for how the day will go. This can be very simple for younger children while older children may want more details. Each morning, review the plan over breakfast or write the plan on a whiteboard so everyone knows what to expect. One routine that is often particularly helpful for younger kids to keep in place is bedtimes: This could include following the same steps at bedtime (for example, PJs, snacks, books) even if it is at a different time.

Challenge 2: Overstimulation. Lots of excitement, people, noise, and many activities be overwhelming for some kids.

Strategy: Build in breaks and quiet time. Even the most outgoing child will have limits in how much time they can visit or be on the go. If you are going to be at someone’s home for an extended period, consider finding a quiet space that your child can take breaks in as they need to. Some children are good at identifying when they need breaks and others might need your help to build in a required break.

Challenge 3: Disappointment. Sometimes kids (and adults!) have an idea about the way the holiday should go. This might be related to a special gift they were hoping for or a family member or friend that they were hoping to see that didn’t work out.

Strategy: Set expectations, set aside time for daily check-ins, and share favorite moments. Find a few minutes each day to check in with your child about if they need to discuss anything that didn’t go how they expected it to. To help balance disappointments, also consider having each family member share one of their favorite moments from the day.

Challenge 4. Parents’ own stress. When a parent’s stress is higher, it can be tough to remain calm and patient during parenting. Kids’ also pick up on their parents’ stress and may react to their parents’ stress as well.

Strategy: Pay attention to your own stress and deal with it. Many parents are experts at ignoring their own stress, but this can take a toll over time. Set boundaries as you need to. Consider asking family, friends, or babysitters to help so you can take a break or do what you need to do to recharge. Consider labeling your feelings and sharing with your child your own strategies such as “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now. I need to take a few minutes in a quiet place to calm down.”

Of note, if you find your or your child’s stress to be very difficult to manage over the holiday season or otherwise, reach out to your doctor or your child’s doctor for more help. They can help decide whether you may benefit from the support of a mental health professional.

Dr. Meghan Marsac, PhD, is a pediatric psychologist at Kentucky Children’s Hospital

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