How to help children cope with holiday stress

The holidays may seem like a carefree time for children but can be quite stressful. Children can feel overwhelmed by extracurricular and busy family activities. Many families travel and whether it’s long or short distances, routines are altered or foregone. Some families make multiple family visits on Christmas day alone which can be very stressful on babies and toddlers. A visit to Santa is not necessarily a happy time. Many young children are afraid of the jolly old elf. Children can be stressed by disappointment and unmet expectations. When this is added to needing to be on one’s best behaviour during a holiday visit, it can push even the most easy-going child over the edge. Illness is another complicating factor as flu and colds make the rounds where crowds gather.

Here are some ways you can help your child cope with holiday stress:

  • Proper rest and good nutrition can boost coping skills. Try to retain routines as best you can. Even while travelling, plan time to rest and pace yourself and your children.
  • If you have babies or toddlers, think about having family members come to your home (ask them to contribute food if you want), so your child is in their own environment.
  • Save visits to Santa until past the toddler age.
  • Help children draft a realistic gift wish list, and involve them in holiday planning such as cooking and activities.
  • Think about taking the family to get the flu shot. You may be preventing a serious bout of illness at this happy time of year.
  • Notice out loud. Tell your child when you notice that something’s bothering him.
  • Listen to your child. Let your child’s concerns and feelings be heard. Many children do not yet have words for their feelings. Putting feelings into words helps children develop emotional awareness-the ability to recognize their own emotional states.
  • Help your child think of things to do to cope with their stress. Brainstorm some stress relief ideas like outdoor skating as a break from Christmas day visiting.
  • Just be there. Children don’t always feel like talking about what is stressing them. Let them know you are there when they do want to talk. Initiate activities to do together.
  • Be together. Bake cookies, build a snow man, go sledding, go skating, watch a movie, listen to music, play a game, do a puzzle, have hot chocolate and cookies, make pizza, look at the stars, help at the food bank, etc.
  • Be patient. Try to resist the urge to fix every problem. Instead, focus on helping your child slowly but surely grow into a good problem solver. Teaching healthy coping strategies helps prepare them to manage stresses that come in the future.

Written by Joyce, Parent Connect Coach

Q: How do I help my children cope with holiday stress?

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