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URMC / Patients & Families / Health Matters / December 2015 / Parents: Keep Kids’ Holiday Stress in Check

Parents: Keep Kids’ Holiday Stress in Check

While we think of the holidays as a happy, exciting, and enjoyable time of year, they also can be stressful for adults and children alike. The stresses that adults often feel around the holidays—due to jam-packed schedules, challenging family dynamics at holiday get-togethers, worries about overspending on presents and overeating just about everything—can impact children. And children, who have their own holiday expectations, can suffer disappointment if their holiday doesn't match the mythical ideal seen in advertising and on television shows.

mother making holiday cookies with her kids

UR Medicine pediatric psychiatrist Dr. Laura Cardella offers tips for parents to help reduce holiday stress for themselves and their children:

  • Stick to your schedule: Change in routine can be hard for everyone, especially children. Try to keep your child on his or her normal schedule as much as possible. Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep, eats regular and healthy meals, and has time for active play.
  • Include children in planning: Some schedule changes are unavoidable at the holidays, especially if travel is involved. But children can adapt well if you let them know about upcoming events, family celebrations, and travel. When telling children about what's ahead, set expectations on what will happen, who will be attending, activities they can do, etc.
  • Manage your own stress: Kids are very good at reading adult emotions, even if they are not verbally expressed, so if you are stressed your child is likely to feel anxious as well. If you are trying to do too much at holiday time, remember that it's ok to say "no" to demands on your time that you can't handle. When you do feel stress, talk to your child in an age-appropriate way about your feelings: let him or her know that you have a lot on your mind and may seem more anxious than usual. If you need help, talk about your problems with friends, family or a health care professional. You can be a role model for your child on how to handle problems in a healthy way.
  • Accept and adapt to family dynamics: The holidays are a time when family members gather, and unresolved issues that cause conflict can dampen any family party. You have an opportunity to show your child a healthy approach to a very common problem: Recognize that you can only control your own behavior, not that of other people, and try to accept others as they are. Try to put aside unrealistic expectations, and don't engage in negative behaviors or family squabbles, even if someone else "started it."
  • Put your child's feelings first: The holidays can be especially difficult for children whose parents are separated or divorced. Try to continue holiday traditions that you began when you were all living as a family together. Talk about the holiday visiting schedule ahead of time so your child knows what to expect in the days and weeks ahead. Never let your child hear or see you talk negatively about the other parent. Resist the temptation to compensate for any disappointments by buying your child extra gifts and toys. The best gift you can give your child is extra time and attention.
  • Set realistic expectations: Kids' wish lists are often bigger than a family's budget allows. Remind your child that every family's gift-giving tradition, preferences, and financial resources are different. You can take the emphasis off what your child receives by reminding them of families that are less fortunate. Consider partnering with your child to volunteer your time or donate toys to a child in need.
  • Keep your child busy with productive, fun activities: Help your child avoid holiday-vacation boredom with board games, family movie night, and arts and crafts projects. Keep "screen time" on electronic devices to a minimum; don't use it as a time-filler.

The holidays can be challenging but they are also an ideal time to celebrate and share your family members’ love for each other.


Laura Cardella, MD

Laura Henrichs Cardella, an assistant professor in Psychiatry and Pediatrics and medical director of the Strong Behavioral Health, Child and Adolescent Outpatient Services, providing psychiatric assessment and care for children of all ages. She also sees children and adolescents in the Pediatric Sleep Medicine Services of the Golisano Children’s Hospital, providing assessment and treatment of a variety of behavioral sleep concerns. 


Lori Barrette | 12/15/2015

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