Managing stress during the holidays

December 7, 2022, Lynne Brown

The holidays can discombobulate anyone, with so many things disrupting the routine. School and daycare are suspended, we travel and spend time away from home and away from our own beds, or people come to visit us and our house is full of people we don’t see very often. Mom and Dad are busy visiting with other grownups and don’t give kids as much attention. It’s busy and not always calm.

The routines we’ve become accustomed to since school started last September aren’t always clicking along like they were. It’s anxiety-producing for kids and parents alike.

The value of routines

We’ve talked before about the value of maintaining routines. A routine helps everyone know what comes next and allows them to mentally prepare for a transition. The holidays are a special time filled with things that are not part of our usual routine. This very difference is part of what makes them magical for young children. But it also creates opportunities for meltdowns. Lots of activity, little ‘downtime’, and changes to diet and sleep patterns all create an environment that requires pretty significant coping skills. Our youngest children are just not wired to be able to cope with that many changes.

Here are a few tips for easing them through all the disruption to their routine that the holidays bring.

Tips for helping kids cope with the holidays

Maintain a consistent bedtime

This can be challenging, especially if you are traveling across time zones, but getting enough sleep always fosters coping skills. Be mindful of how long you’ve been out when socializing during the holidays. There may be times when you just need to cut your visit short in order to allow little ones a good night’s sleep in their own beds.

Look for opportunities to create an oasis of calm

Family gatherings with lots of people can create so much energy. We’re excited to be together, we are eating all kinds of treats, so many of the usual rules are suspended. It can create an environment of overwhelm for our youngsters. When energy levels seem to be skyrocketing, look for ways to withdraw and allow them to calm down. Is there a quiet backyard where you could spend a few minutes with them alone? A bedroom that is unoccupied where you could read them a book, or do a little quiet yoga?  Just a few minutes away from the crowd can help regulate emotions and energy and reduce stress.

Provide visual cues for what’s coming (and when)

One year when my youngest was nearly 3, we were making plans to fly to a family wedding. To help her know when we’d finally be getting on an airplane, we created a colored paper chain with a link for each of the days leading up to our flights. Each morning at breakfast, she would remove a link from the chain. The remaining links gave her a visual for how many more days it would be before our trip. Any time your family is looking forward to a special event, using a paper chain can help kids visualize the number of days they must wait for the event.

Stick to your mealtime schedule

Adding activities to the schedule during the holidays can disrupt our efforts to maintain a regular schedule for meals. But what (and when) we eat contributes to our overall health, both physical and mental. Keeping to the usual mealtime routine can help kids stay properly fueled – reducing hunger-induced meltdowns. If they are used to an early lunch, offer a small lunch (or a big snack) when they usually eat, even if you are headed to grammas for a big holiday meal at 1pm.

Go easy on yourself

We’re all trying to do it all – the regular tasks that keep the family humming from one day to the next and all the holiday activities that make this time of year unique. There will be days when something has to give or nothing seems to click. Don’t add to the stress by beating yourself up over things that don’t go as planned. Take a break, invite your kids to snuggle in, and rest a minute. It’ll be ok. Give it a go again tomorrow.

Wishing you Happy Holidays from the Parenting Success Network!