Parents have been stressed out asking me how to make the holiday season less stressful for children and for themselves. Let me see if I can ease some holiday anxiety and provide some information on this topic.
First, one great way to counter holiday stress is to do your best to stick with your usual family routines. Any sleep, meal, exercise and daily chore schedules should all stay in place for your children (and for you). And when it comes to those meals, make sure the family eats the same healthy foods that they usually do. Avoid a seasonal array of less-than-healthy holiday treats.
Keeping these routines reduces the stress of children being up late, eating poorly and struggling to get back on schedule.
Parents, you need to take time for yourself during the holidays — for both your mental and physical well-being. If you are stressed, your children will sense that stress and become more stressed as a result. If you feel stressed out, stop what you’re doing and take a few deep breaths. Walk over to a window and look out at the sky, then go back to what you were doing. Sunlight and exercise are great for elevating anyone’s mood.
Holiday drama can and will happen, so you need to find and enjoy some quiet, reflective moments every day. Finding something to laugh about is a great way to lighten an otherwise stressful mood or situation.
Most importantly, enjoy the holidays for what they are really meant for — time with your family. Find time each week, if not each day (not just around the holidays), to do something together as a family. Try playing board games, visiting relatives or neighbors, or going outside to sled, ski or play together.
If the stress or holiday blues are getting you or your children down, talk to someone you trust. Your child’s health-care professional can help you as well to find ways to reduce stress and enjoy the holiday season.
Hopefully, tips like these will ease the tension you might feel during the holidays. Then you can truly celebrate the joys of being together as a family.
Dr. Lewis First is chief of pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.