Tips to Prevent Holiday Stress for Children (and Parents)

Tips to Prevent Holiday Stress for Children (and Parents)

The holidays are filled with exciting events. As children grow from infancy into toddlerhood and early childhood, parents will find they experience holiday events in new ways each year. While this can be fun and exciting, it can also be stressful for parents as they help children navigate the ways these events impact their children. Here are some tips to help during this time period.

Talk to your kids about what to expect. As parents, we have an idea of how family functions and events will work. Young children don’t have this same knowledge base and memory to recall these events from year to year. Save some time to talk with your child in the week leading up to the holiday about what specific family events will look like, who will be there, and what they may be expected to do during these times. Then, review the plan on the day of the event.

Practice for meeting new relatives. It is likely your young children do not recall who certain family members are or how they are related to you and your family. If children do not see certain relatives often, seeing them again is similar to meeting them for the first time.

Some hesitation and shyness in these situations is normal and providing specific coaching will help this go more smoothly. Practicing before the event increases the likelihood it will go smoothly and reduce your child’s hesitation. For example: “Sally, tomorrow we are going to grandma’s house and we will see a few other relatives there that are part of our family but you may not remember since we don’t see them as often. They will want to say hi and ask you about school or an activity you like to do since they don’t get to see you as often grandma does. Let’s practice answering a few simple questions and feeling comfortable with what to say.”

Provide frequent praise. If children are adapting well to a new situation and meeting your expectations, praise their positive efforts. Praise should not be reserved just for extraordinary events but used to help kids understand you appreciate their efforts and want them to maintain positive behavior. In this case, you could say, “Sally, I really appreciate you playing nicely while mommy is helping with dinner,” or “Sally, thanks so much for answering Aunt Susan’s questions about school,” will help to continue these positive behaviors and increase the likelihood they meet expectations in the future.

Be mindful about changes in routines. Holiday events often do not follow your typical household routines. Being mindful about deviations in bedtime routines, nap schedules, and mealtimes will be important to help reduce stress. Be prepared with snacks, PJ’s, and comfort items (blankets, favorite stuffed animals) to help make these changes in routine easier.
Hopefully these tips will help to maximize fun and minimize stress during the holiday season. . If you feel your child is having emotional, behavioral, or developmental difficulties beyond what seems typical, contact Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Behavioral Health Services at (614) 355-8080 for an assessment.

Cami Winkelspecht, Ph.D.
Dr. Winkelspecht is a Psychologist and Clinical Educator for Behavioral Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to her role as a clinical educator, she coordinates the Incredible Years parent programming initiatives within behavioral health, is the Associate Track Director of the Child Clinical Internship training track for their APA approved psychology internship program, and serves as a cognitive-behavioral therapy consultant for the agency. She received her B.S. in Psychology and Child Development from Vanderbilt University and her M.S. and Ph.D. from Auburn University.

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