Preparing for Thanksgiving dinner, shopping for Christmas and trekking from house to house for holiday celebrations can be stressful and exhausting for parents. Oftentimes, the holidays can be equally as stressful for children.
“The holidays can conjure up a lot more stress, whether there is family fighting or a recent death in the family,” says Dr. Salvatore Ventimiglia, pediatrician at Shelby Pediatric Associates and Child Lung Center, with locations in Shelby Township and Troy. “There’s a lot to it that can really make things difficult. I think we only amplify our own personal stress in the holidays.”
And those emotions spill over to children, which can impact their mood, behavior and, in some cases, health. Some children who had previously kicked habits such as thumb-sucking, nail-biting and bed-wetting may start doing those things again, he says. Others may develop a nervous tick as a result of stress. Younger children might whine, cry and complain more, too.
“Stress will disrupt their sleep and a child with disruptive sleep won’t even be able to function well in their main job, which is school,” Ventimiglia says, adding that these same children could feel additional anxiety about not performing well academically.
Stress can also take a toll on their physical health. Studies have shown that stress can make children more susceptible to common illnesses, he adds. Combine all these things together and you’ve got a recipe for holiday disaster.
Want to keep the stress at bay? Follow these tips for a stress-free holiday season.
Stick to a routine. While this doesn’t seem likely during the holiday season, maintaining the same nap and bedtime schedule for your child is important. So, if your little guy naps from 2 to 4 p.m. and is in bed by 9 p.m., then plan around that schedule to ease his stress.
Communicate. “Maybe for the older kids, giving them a heads up on what the schedule is going to be like,” Ventimiglia says. For older elementary and middle school-aged children, just being in the loop on the plans and events can be such a big stress reliever.
Schedule down time. From Thanksgiving on, things are going to get hectic, so scheduling downtime, even if that means breaking your family’s screen-time rules, is key. Kids need to blow off steam, too, he adds, so maybe your family can hit up a local indoor playground to burn some energy.
Breathe. Talk to your kids about deep breathing exercises, he suggests – and do them as a family.
Plan for car rides. Whether your commute lasts 30 minutes or three hours, you’ll want to make sure your kids are entertained during the car ride. Let them listen to their favorite tunes through a set of headphones (that way everyone hears what they want to hear) during the car ride.
Let your child vent. “Let them get some of this off of their chest,” he suggests. If your child is feeling overwhelmed by all of the holiday plans, it’s important for him to be able to talk to you about it.
Learn to say “no.” “We don’t have to do all of the holiday parties. We don’t have to do three breakfasts with Santa. We don’t have to go and do everything and bring our kids to everything,” Ventimiglia says. It’s OK to schedule a babysitter to go to an event without your kids. Or, if you’re feeling the holiday burnout, it’s OK to just say no and stay home as a family.
For more information on Shelby Pediatric Associates and Child Lung Center, visit shelbypediatricassociates.com.