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Helping Children Manage Holiday Stress

stressed out boyThe holidays are a fun time of year for most people. However, that is not to say that it is stress free. Between the endless mall runs and constant invites to holiday parties, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Most adults can recognize when they have too much on their plate.  However, children aren’t always able to recognize when they are stressed. Holiday stress manifests differently for each child. Some children will withdraw while others will start to act out.  Listed below are some common warning signs a child may be feeling the holiday blues.

Signs of holiday stress in children:

  • Child is moody and cries easily over small things
  •  Increased bickering with peers and siblings
  • Increased talking back to teachers and/or parents
  •  Increase in problem behaviors at home and/or school
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Reverting to problem behaviors from a younger age (i.e. bed wetting, temper tantrums, etc.

Below are some suggestions for what counselors can do to help children nip stress in the bud.

Discuss with students what stress is.  Some children struggle with knowing when they are stressed out because they do not know what stress is. Help them to identify signs of stress and how it can affect them.  For certain kids, just having an explanation for why they feel the way they do can help them turn their mood and behavior around.

Collaborate with students to identify coping strategies to manage stress.    Teaching children positive coping skills gives them more options for how they can choose to respond to a situation. As the saying goes, “when you know better, you do better.”  I have provided a BE CALM printable that gives some examples of coping strategies children can use when they feel stressed.

Home-school connection

The following are some suggestions for how parents and caregivers can minimize the level of holiday stress their children experience.

Keep a routine. There is something about the holidays that causes some of us to be more lax with our routine. We allow our children to indulge more at home, and at school, the whole month of December can feel like Fun Friday. There’s nothing wrong with getting into the holiday spirit, however, children find comfort in structure and routine. They like knowing what is going to happen next. When we mess with their routine, even if it means they get special treats, it throws them off.

Choose quality over quantity. There is no need to jam pack your holiday itinerary with EVERYTHING you wish you had done as a kid. Children prefer spending quality time with you as opposed to being forced to do a myriad of activities they have no interest in.

Set aside time just for the kids. Even though the holidays are about family and togetherness, the hustle and bustle to prepare for the holidays often means less attention for children. To remedy this, parents can plan a date with their children and make it all about them. They can use that time to work on a craft together, play a game, or just to cuddle.

Maintain healthy eating habits. Everyone turns into an expert baker during the holidays and they all want to share their treats. December is apparently a judgment free month because it’s the only time of year where it’s acceptable to have an endless supply of cakes and cookies on hand. Additionally, with all the running around the adults have to do, making dinner becomes a past time that is frequently replaced with dinner at the drive thru. A diet of sugar and fast food will definitely make any child miserable. Do him or her a favor and balance out the treats with at least two healthy meals during the day.

Maintain healthy sleeping habits.  Bedtime routines usually go out the window during the holidays, especially when the kids are home for winter recess.  Parents are more willing to let their kids stay up late. They are more likely to cave and let their little one stay up to watch the last thirty minutes of the Toy Story holiday special. However, messing with a child’s sleep schedule can cause BIG problems. Lack of sleep can make children cranky, irritable, and downright miserable. This is why it is so important that parents be consistent with their child’s bed time.

Please feel free to leave any tips that you have for minimizing the amount of stress a child experiences during the holidays.

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