by Amy Marschall, PsyD
There is much to look forward to during the upcoming holiday season, but many families spend this time dealing with stress from family conflict, travels, and disrupted schedules. Children especially can experience stress around the holidays despite their excitement. In my practice, I frequently tell families: even positive stress is stressful. So how can you tell when your children are experiencing stress? And what are some ways you can help your kids manage stress during the holidays?
Children often do not have the skills to express their needs using words. Instead, they might show their stress through mood swings, irritability, changes in sleep or appetite, or physical symptoms such as stomachaches without a physical cause. Children might also have regressive behavior, such as thumb sucking, physical clinginess, or bed-wetting.
Although changes from your typical routine are part of the holiday fun, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule possible will improve your kids’ physical and mental health. Giving kids some information about holiday plans (without spoiling any big surprises, of course!) can lower stress levels as well. In addition, it can be tempting to cram as many fun activities into holiday breaks as possible, but setting aside time to just relax will give the whole family more energy.
Diet and exercise are also important in managing stress. During the holidays, many people tend to pay less attention to what they eat and exercise less. Moderating your child’s sugar intake and ensuring that they continue to consume healthy foods can significantly reduce stress level. In addition, encourage your child to be active and burn off excess energy.
If your child expresses stress or frustration by acting out, encourage them to talk about their feelings with you. Give them space and opportunities to express themselves appropriately. Avoid punishments that involve losing family time or holiday fun, as this can add to their stress because they are afraid of missing out.
Finally, parents can help their children through leading by example. When your child sees you using healthy coping skills, managing stress, and communicating feelings appropriately, they will learn these skills also. Remember to be patient with them as they are learning.
Despite being a joyous time, the holidays are also a source of stress. You and your family can work through the stressful times together and have a wonderful holiday season!
At Sioux Falls Psychological Services, we meet you where you are, offering hope. To schedule an appointment call 605-334-2696.