11 Ways to Manage Holiday Stress with Children
By Dr. Cheryl Andaya
For most, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season is a joyous occasion. However, many also feel very stressed 😫 at this time of year as preparations, change of routines and school breaks occur. There is also the stress of toxic family environments that contribute to anxiety and frustrations. Some DREAD the holidays because of this. If you come from a toxic upbringing or have unhealthy family relationships with extended family, I’ll be posting about that in the next couple weeks. This post will mainly be geared towards managing the daily demands of family life and the changes in routine that the holiday brings. If you find yourself stressed because, let’s face it, parents already have a lot to do and the holiday season just adds to this stress, then keep reading for some tips to make things a little easier as we head into the new year. Hang in there! We got this!!!!
Okay so here is a list of 10 things that can help you keep your sanity during the holidays. If you want, I also have a quick checklist of this available in printout form here.
- Emotional check! First and foremost! Here’s one that people often forget (and should be at the top of the list). What is your emotional functioning currently? Are you stressed as it is? Has there been some tough things going on that depleted your emotional resources? Check with yourself, will you be placing too much on yourself if you host a party? Your emotional wellbeing is going to impact you the next few weeks if you don’t address it now. If you’re in a bad space, will you be able to implement selfcare in order to be prepared for the craziness that often occurs during the seasons? Get yourself into good space to prevent burnout. If you need help, seek a therapist or contact me for parent/family coaching to ease things.
2. Emotional space of loved ones. Now that you assessed your emotional wellbeing, check in on your loved ones. How are the holidays going to affect them? Do they have a history of hating the holidays? Do they tend to shutdown? Have they gone through difficult changes? Will you need to pay extra attention and care? Can you provide support or give them resources for extra support?
3. Team Effort. Keep your crew informed! Communication is key for this one!
- Let your partner and children know about the upcoming changes in routine. Letting your littles know about the changes in routine and people coming over can help decrease their anxiety especially if they tend to be anxious, have adhd or other emotional dysregulation challenges.
- Get them involved with prepping the house. Treat it like a mission and assign duty stations and goals. Give them that sense of responsibility and trust. Even the youngest kiddo can have a mission. Make it fun and let them know they are contributing to the Thanksgiving/Christmas mission. You can even enlist their help in thinking about chores that need to be done.
- Here are some examples:
- Dusting for kryptonite (wiping down counters)
- Manning the alien seeker (vacuum)
- Gathering the explosives (toys and clutter) and putting it in the bunkers (toy bin)
- Slime patrol (mopping and drying floors)
- I also let my kiddos know that mommy may be rushing around like a mad woman. They have permission to let me know when I’m being too terse with them or if I’m dumping my stress on them. They help keep me in check like how I keep them in check.
- Give them lots of praise for helping out, for staying calm when you’re going bat-sh*t and for just being awesome. Praise your partner for whatever they contribute…even if that means they just stayed out of your way. Throw them off and stay on the positive this year. This also helps remind you that you are doing all this holiday stuff for FAMILY! Keep yo self in check! Take that breather and GIVE YOURSELF SOME PRAISE! YOU GOT THIS!
4. Routines. There are changes in routines because of the things that need to get done for holiday festivities; however, keeping as close to your routine as possible can save you a lot of grief. Make time for those needed naps. Make sure meal times are kept intact or keep snacks available. This will save you from meltdowns. Trust me…it’s not worth it, especially if you have a toddler or have a kiddo (or in my case, a partner 😆) who’s prone to these meltdowns. If there are changes in routines, let your child know and remind them throughout the day. They may still have meltdowns, but hopefully it won’t be as bad if they are somewhat prepared. If they become anxious about changes, this gives you an opportunity to help them find calming methods.
5. PERIODIC CHECK-INS WITH CHILDREN. Remember to keep periodic check-ins with your children. If they start tantruming or acting out, this is a sign of something.
6. Prepare. Prepare. Making lists help tremendously! Make a list of Thanksgiving preparations:
- What are you preparing to make for Thanksgiving?
- How long will it take to defrost the turkey?
- Who are you inviting to your home? Or will you be going to someone else’s home? (the latter is awesome since this will take care of the next step)
- Do you need to clean your home for visitors? Do you really care if it’s messy? What is clean enough so you won’t stress?
7. REAL EXPECTATIONS! Check number one and ask yourself, “Are those realistic expectations?” If not, edit that bad boy until it looks like stuff you can actually do. Yes, you are a freakin superstar BUT you don’t have to shine all the time. Save yourself some stress and keep it real…OR check out the next item.
8. HELP Available? If you have the help USE IT!
- What can the children do?
- What can you assign to other family members?
- Got friends?
- No shame, buy stuff you can, or hire someone to clean the house…on the real though. I feel you. If you’re like us, we rather do it ourselves rather than spend the money. That being said, see what else you can do to make it easier.
- Disposables. Yes, I know, ghetto but if they’re not doing the dishes then they shouldn’t judge. Use wraps, foil, and other “helpers” to make clean up or prepping easier.
- CleaLet’s be real, if you’re like me, you want to clean and have the house nice and tidy before the guests come. IF you have limited time, shoving everything in one room, closing bedroom doors and limiting guests to one bathroom could make it easier. Here is my speed cleaning list (you can also have a printable list sent to your email here)
- Shove everything (toys, clutter, etc) in the closet and close the door.
- Wipe down common area surfaces.
- Kitchen counter
- Dining table
- Coffee table
- Living room window sills
- Bathroom sink area
- Serving table
- Vacuum just the living room and common areas
- Clean toilets to be used by guests
- Put out clean hand towels, extra toilet paper and air freshner
10. Visiting boundaries. Talk to your children about expectations during visits:
- Remind them that they don’t have to hug or kiss relatives if they don’t want to. Fistbumps, high-fives, shakas (Hawaii’s hangloose sign), and waves are all acceptable greetings.
- If you expect them to sit while eating, not stand on furniture, play gently with toys, etc are expected, then let know that you have those same expectations while visiting with others. If other children are doing it, let them know you expect them to still follow your rules (if any). Laying out expectations before getting there can help ensure your children will be safe.
11. THE REASON FOR THE SEASON. Most importantly, remember the reason for holiday celebrations. It’s to reconnect with loved ones, be thankful for the blessings we’ve been given and the life/health we have. You never know when your last thanksgiving will be and there are so many families that have lost so much recently. Prayers go out to them. Please realize what you have and how others go without. If you’re stressed about doing too much, then just having a simple meal with your loved ones and talking about these blessings is enough. After all, your children will remember the way you were present for them, the smile on your face, and the joy in your heart rather than the stress, yelling and frustration to have the perfect get together.
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I’m a mother and a Clinical Psychologist who works with children and their families as well as individuals reaching for their goals. Born and raised in Hawaii, I embrace diversity and help individuals find their strengths.