5 GOLDEN RULES TO MANAGE HOLIDAY STRESS
Managing our family during the holidays can rapidly become overwhelming. Oftentimes, for parents, this period of the year means an increase of pressure due to social obligations, the stress of gift buying, and an imperative necessity to be ready on the special days. Parents are often left with a tremendous emotional fatigue and very few emotional resources to manage their children.
Here are a few tips about how to get away from the cycle of stress:
1. Establish a schedule and stick to it. Thinking ahead of what needs to be done and when to do these tasks are a good way to avoid additional stress. From gifts to decoration, cooking to cleaning the house, holiday preparation is time consuming. So, in order to get everything done in time, break down the chores into easy-to-manage steps.
2. Get help in planning and preparing. When children are involved in the process, they feel like they are an integral part of the events taking place. So, giving them responsibilities and having them do some of the planning will contribute to make them feel engaged in the holiday preparations. Be clear about what you expect from them and make sure you understand each other about the assignments.
3. Keep your children busy. When children are on vacation and out of school, they have less structure in their daily life. So, planning activities in their schedule will help to manage their free time: plan outings for the week, arrange playdates, suggest a few activity ideas such as homemade ornaments, gingerbread house, holiday camping (preferably in the house), board games,…
4.Try to keep the routines as normal as possible. By definition, the holidays are particularly propitious to overstimulation. Children get tired from all activities and get thrown off balance due to the lack of normal routines. In addition, they probably eat more sweets and go to bed later. So, try to stick to their regular schedules and routines the best way you can so that the same rules apply.
5. No free pass for inappropriate behavior. Since tension and excitement are usually at their peak over the holidays, children do need more limits, not fewer. Be realistic and set your expectations about your children’ behavior before the holiday season starts. Thus, they know what the consequences will be if they do not respect the rules.
Since anxiety is very contagious in families, feelings of stress can rapidly spread like a wild fire when we feel we are losing control of the situation. So, planning ahead, involving our children, setting up realistic expectations, and trying to keep their routines, are keys to manage stress over the holiday season.
GETTING THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS STRESS-FREE WITH YOUR FAMILY
Holidays are supposed to be filled with joy, warmth, and generosity. However, too often, holidays mean stress and anxiety. You expect to have a nice, shared time with your family and maybe attend some larger family gatherings while your children may expect to receive every gift they demand, spend their school break playing video games and staying up late.
In order to avoid disillusions, here are a few tips about how to handle the holidays more peacefully:
1. Be realistic about your expectations. Your child is probably not going to spend most of her day helping you prepare the food and decorate the whole house. So, let go of expectations for how things will go or should be. If you start the season thinking you will enjoy the season if your child is compliant and behaves, then chances are you will not enjoy the holidays.
2. Let go of your own stress. Since children are very sensitive to adult stress and internalize feelings easily, make sure that you manage your own stress by acknowledging your feelings, reaching out, planning ahead, and learning to say no.
3. Assign specific tasks to your child. In order to avoid tension, power struggles, and potential conflicts, ask your child to do practical tasks. For instance, you can suggest “How about answering the door when the bell rings and take the guests’ coats as they arrive.”
4. Create your holidays. Since each of us is unique, so should be your holidays. You do not have to spend your holidays the way your family always did nor the way you think everyone else does. Instead, sit down with your family and brainstorm ideas about how to celebrate the holidays this year. Maybe, this year you will not travel and instead stay home to have dinner together.
5. Do not compare yourself or your family to others. Even if it is human nature to compare ourselves to others, try to avoid it as the result may trigger your anxiety. One consequence might be to try to force your children to behave a certain way so you can live up to the picture you have in your head. The essential aspect is to accept the family you have, not the one you might wish you had. Focus on the uniqueness of your family and enjoy it.
Having reasonable expectations for how the holidays will go, planning ahead together as a family, and making your holidays specific to your family will help avoid tensions and conflicts during this season.
As a parent and a therapist, I want to offer some tips on how to raise happy and healthy kids. Please feel free to comment on my posts.