The holidays are here, and with all of the sparkle and glitter comes a sleigh full of stress and anxiety as people try to juggle gift wrapping, social engagements, finances, work and family. Recent studies from the American Psychological Association show that older children and teens are experiencing stress and anxiety at alarmingly high rates – almost mirroring the same level as adults.
Sometimes, while we’re getting buried under all of the pressure we forget that the kids are also dealing with their own holiday stress. Even though the holidays are usually fun and exciting, kids’ routines can get turned upside down due to a variety of reasons such as school and social activities, holiday traveling, or making transitions within a blended family. They may also be dealing with the loss of a loved one or missing a parent who is active in the military.
Signs that your child may be experiencing holiday stress are:
- Change in appetite
- Sleeping difficulties
- Withdrawal or social isolation
- Physical complaints such as stomachaches or headaches
- Overwhelming sadness and lots of tears
- Obsessive or overly anxious
- Easily annoyed or irritated
- Intense anger or rage
If these feelings become extreme or last for several weeks after the holidays, speak to your family physician to make sure there are no medical reasons causing these symptoms.
Of course, it’s not possible to completely eliminate your child’s holiday stress; however, here are some tips on how to help them cope and have an enjoyable holiday season:
Stick to healthy habits – Make sure everyone is getting enough sleep, exercise, and eating the right food. This means cutting out the sugary drinks, candy canes, and fast food. Instead, rely on home cooking, fruits and veggies while drinking lots of water.
Create family traditions – Spending time with family is a time for kids to relax, have fun, and just be themselves. These special moments can bring a lot of comfort to children during this fast-paced season. Create traditions such as baking cookies, decorating the tree, watching old movies, or driving around the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights.
Just say no – It’s hard to say “no” to the people we care about, but sometimes necessary for everyone’s sanity. Don’t feel compelled to accept every invitation you and your child receives. If your children are old enough, sit down together and discuss which ones are the most important before deciding if there is room for additional activities.
Keep a holiday calendar – Stay organized with a family calendar that is kept on the refrigerator or other prominent place so that everyone knows what is going on at all times. This will help to create overbooking and hopefully create some free time.
Manage expectations – yours and theirs. Before stepping out into the holiday whirlwind, talk to your children about upcoming holiday plans and what they can expect so they will have some degree of predictability. This would also be a good time to discuss using appropriate behavior, although it would be unreasonable to expect perfection.
Managing stress are common issues that many families experience. By paying attention to your child’s schedule, exercise, diet, and sleep patterns, you can help them from becoming too overwhelmed and stressed during the holidays. Of course, if you have any persistent problems or concerns, speaking with a mental health professional is advised.