Celebrating the holiday season can be a two-sided coin—especially for families with children. While the last six weeks of the year often provide opportunities for visits with family and friends, shared meals, secret shopping trips, and the joys of gift-giving, it can also be difficult to get enough sleep, exercise, and that “alone time” everyone needs to feel centered and balanced.
Let’s take a look at a few things families might do during the holidays to reduce holiday anxiety—for adults and children!
Predictability is Key
The holidays often bring a disruption in routines, which can be especially hard on children. If holiday anxiety is a fact of life in your family, taking a few moments to review what you will be doing during the holiday break—the activities you have planned, the places you will go, the people you will see, and the expectations you have for each of those things—will go a long way toward providing the structure and routine many children crave. Staying up a little later to watch a show or a holiday movie as a family or staying in your PJs until noon on a lazy day probably won’t be too disruptive, but do your best to keep kids’ sleeping schedule similar to their usual routine. Activities and visits that center around meals can be tricky for children with sensory concerns or who don’t enjoy a wide variety of foods. You can always encourage kids to try new things, but packing a few favorite foods may take a potential issue off the table, so to speak.
Preparation Goes a Long Way
Let’s be real. Holiday gatherings can bring joy and a sense of togetherness that’s hard to find in our busy lives, but they can also be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. If holiday anxiety is a fact of life in your home, there are things you can do to help your children develop anxiety coping skills—and make the adults in your house breathe a little more easily, too.
Once again, predictability is key. Take a little time to prepare your child for the event. Tell them who you expect to be there and what it might be set up like. And because family gatherings can be a good place for children to practice social interactions, it might even be helpful to practice the answers to some questions they might be asked as well. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect either—family gatherings can be teachable moments for children… and adults.
Model Stress Management
The holidays are an opportunity to model good stress management and self-care for your family. If you find holiday anxiety starting to get the better of you, getting outdoors in the fresh air can clear your head and relax you. Focus on calm breathing or meditation if you start to feel your stress levels rising. Get out your journal and reflect, rant, or rave until you feel your heart rate returning to normal. Through it all, talk to your children about your feelings of stress and share with them the tools you’ve developed to cope with anxiety.
Plan Ahead for Peace and Quiet
Some children find the constant sights and sounds of the holiday season exciting—they can’t seem to get enough of jingle bells, parades, Santa sightings, and all the bells and whistles that accompany the holiday season. Others, however, especially those who are easily overstimulated or sensitive to noise or crowds have a very difficult time with this chaotic time of year. Finding ways to help them get away from it all, even for a few minutes, will be refreshing for them, eventually allowing them to get back into the fray with a new perspective. Just taking them outside to run around or into another room for a quiet game will be a restorative break for them…and likely for you as well.
Take the time to do fun activities together. Even playing the simplest games together as a family can make lasting memories. Try new things! Some of the things you try will be big hits that turn into family traditions; others will be flops you’ll laugh about for years.
Make a New Year’s Resolution
When the gift-exchanging is behind you, a lot of the company has gone home, and things start to quiet down a bit, so take some time to talk about the new year ahead. Explore your children’s wishes for 2023 and share some of your goals with them If the holidays are anxiety-producing for you and your children, don’t worry—you are not alone! Using some of these techniques will help your child build some holiday anxiety coping skills, and help bring about moments of magic as you celebrate this season.