Many believe that the holidays are a merry, bright, and magical time for everyone, especially kids. The reality is, for many children and teens, the holidays are stressful and overwhelming.
The holiday season and everything that comes with it can be stressful for adults and children. For children and teens who have experienced trauma or who struggle with anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges, the holidays can be especially triggering.
Determining whether your child or teen is feeling stressed might be difficult. Here are a few symptoms to look out for:
- Physical complaints like headaches or stomach aches
- Bedwetting, meltdowns, tantrums
- Withdrawal from social interactions
- Nervous behaviors like nail biting
- Sleeping a lot more or a lot less than normal
- Changes in eating habits
These six tips will help you navigate the holidays this year while protecting and supporting your child's mental health!
1. Acknowledge their feelings
It's ok to acknowledge that the holidays aren't a magical time for everyone. There are ups and downs. This time of year can bring up memories of loss and tension. If you notice your child struggling, try talking to them about their feelings. Try to listen actively to what your child is saying, and ask open-ended questions.
2. Help your child develop tools to cope
Help your child develop tools and self-care strategies that they can rely on when they feel stressed or overwhelmed. These tools can help your child re-group and relax. Things like calm breathing, meditation, journaling, spending time outside, reading, crafting, drawing or painting, or listening to music are great activities that can help your child de-stress.
3. Set boundaries
You do not have to say "yes" to every event. It's ok to decline invitations to cookie swaps, parties, gift exchanges, and get-togethers–friends and family will understand if you can't participate in every activity! Having an obligation every day can lead to stress and anxiety–try to carve out time for relaxation and alone time.
4. Stick to your family's routine
There will undoubtedly be changes to your family's routine during the holiday season, but it is essential to try to stick to a routine. If your family's routine is changing, prepare your child by reviewing what to expect and what is changing. If you're traveling this holiday season, bring familiar stuffed animals, toys, books, and comforts from home. Try your best to keep sleep and eating schedules close to your family's regular schedule. Be sure to stay active and make time for rest!
If your family observes traditions during the holiday season, try your best to stick to them! Family traditions can provide comfort and security for children.
5. Rest, rest, rest!
Sleep will help your child be the best they can be! Be sure your children get 8-10 hours of sleep every night, and go to bed and wake up at a consistent time, when possible. Beyond sleep, make sure your child has time for quiet activities to help them rest their mind and body, like puzzles, coloring, or reading a book.
6. Practice gratitude
The holidays are filled with hustle and bustle–travel, family visiting, parties, and more. It's crucial to take a step back and remember what the holidays are for–kindness and gratitude. You can help your child practice gratitude by discussing what you're grateful for and making a list. Additionally, helping others can help reduce stress–whether it's baking cookies for neighbors, shoveling a neighbor's snowy sidewalk, or getting involved in a local charity.
It's super important for parents to protect their mental health as well. Remember, children are like sponges so they will soak up your stress. If you can, try to set a calm example. Take care of yourself, take time to rest, and try to have fun this holiday season.