By Emily Roberts MA, LPC
Eight year-old Ali is excited that Santa Claus coming in just a few short weeks. She’s made her list, had her picture taken with him at the mall, and has tried her best to be a “good girl” this year. With the holiday spirit in full swing, her mother expects Ali to be full of smiles and excitement. However, she notices that Ali is more distracted and moody, quick tempered. Her teachers are noticing that she can’t sit still in class or pay attention, and at night she complains of not being able to sleep. What Ali is experiencing is not only the excitement of the holiday season (anticipation can mimic anxiety), but also the stress of ending of school term, a change in her daily routine, and the emotions her parents are projecting. Mom has an end of the year report due before her holiday vacation, has to finish shopping for everyone on her list, and dad is feeling the winter blues from the nostalgic memories of his childhood and the loss of his father a few year ago. It would be remiss to think that Ali hasn’t picked up on the stressof her parents; she has.
The media depicts the holidays as a time when families effortlessly come together, their houses look like they have been extracted from the pages of a Normal Rockwell painting, and their children are polite, grateful, and happy. The reality is that parents are stressed about the end of another financial quarter, the
beginning of a new year, finding the right gift for everyone on their list, and managing their own emotions that come with the holidays. In fact The American
Psychological Association (APA) found that nearly three-quarters of Americans say they experience stress at levels that exceed what they define as healthy
during the holiday season; this means your kids feel it too.
Here are a few ways to help you and your family stay stress free this holiday season:
Tell your children about changes ahead of time. Just like you did before schoolbegan this fall, tell your children ahead of time what changes going to occur and when. Keep a calendar on the refrigerator or in a place they can see it (on their eye level) with the holiday events and changes. When you are making the calendar have them do it with you and use stickers or drawings to depict the events. “The week after next is when you will be staying with Aunt Cheryl while mom and dad are at work, remember no school this week. Maybe you guys can make cookies or go to the museum?”
Eat on a similar schedule. Children are very sensitive to changes in schedules especially when it comes to their diets. Studies show that kids who don’t
eat every 3 hours (this goes for many adults too) have more meltdowns, less focus, and lower blood sugar. Make sure that they are getting meals and snacks in the same time increments as when school was in session. So instead of waking up at 7, they may crawl out of bed at 9, make sure they are eating breakfast then and eating lunch within the same time frame as they did before .
Don’t be negative. When shopping or engaging in holiday hustle and bustle try not to complain. You are aware of what you are getting yourself into before you even step out the door, so start off positive. There will likely be long lines, traffic, and crowds; like every year before. If you are
complaining about these things that you really have no control over you are teaching your children to be negative, and putting a damper on the time you
have together. Not to mention you are putting negative energy out there, making anyone around you feel down. Make shopping fun, have your child
wait in line while you pick out something, or you wait in line while they do. While you are in the car waiting patiently for a parking spot talk
about the gifts they’d like to find for someone, and create positive energy around this experience. If all else fails- don’t go- use the click of your mouse and buy online, you can have the little ones help with this too, get their opinions, then spend time doing something meaningful like going to the park or decorating a gingerbread house with your children. Don’t spend these precious years with them complaining.
Make gift giving fun. If you find yourself with a Grinch-like attitude when it comes to giving gifts to the office or your child’s teacher, or anyone for that
matter, don’t do it in front of them. They will look at gift giving as something negative versus a meaningful, creative, thoughtful practice.
Have them help you with the presents. Ask your son “What do you think Mrs.Wilson would like this year a candle or chocolates? Would you like to
help me pick out the wrapping paper? Tie the bow?” When your child becomes engaged in the process they are proud and often feel the excitement from the receiver. For an even more creative touch, have them make the present, a friend of mine makes the best pumpkin bars ever. She has her daughters
decorate the jars while she prepares the mix. Each girl signs the jar and helps mom with the finishing touches. The girls, who are 3 and 5 love,being a part of the process and when are proud to give the teachers their gifts.
Talk about the positives-watch what you say. If you find yourself sulking around because the holidays remind your melancholy childhood, relatives or friends that fill you with frustration, keep it to yourself or share it with an adult- out of ear shot of your kids. They heareverything! “My mom thinks Mrs. XXXXX next door has tackydecorations.” A 9 year-old tells me. When I asked her what tackymeans she said “something bad, I don’t want to be tacky.” Try not to focus on the negative people or the stress that is happening in your personalor work life. Many children are not yet able to interpret this asventing; they take it in and model your behavior. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing to hear that your nine year old was calling an adult tacky?
In the end it’s all about being grateful and teaching our children that although gifts are nice to have, love is what is really important. According to author Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, “There is only love. If you’re heading into a difficult situation, take a moment to fill your heart with love. Think
of all the reasons that you’re grateful to your family and friends, and the happy memories you’ve shared, and how things might look from other people’s
perspectives. This can be hard to do, but it will make you happier. And if you’re happy, you’re going to be better able to make other people happy.” Let’s teach this to our children and echo it in our lives. The holidays are about love; let this be part of your family’s tradition.
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