From Bah, Humbug to Happy Holidays!

Lifespan Blog Team

Ah, the holidays. The hustle, the bustle, the shopping, decorating, activities and parties, and household finances all equal added stress on families. No wonder the American Psychological Association says eight out of every 10 families report high levels of stress during the holidays.  

So how can families keep stress at bay during the busy holiday season? Here are some tips, thanks to Anne Walters, Ph.D., clinical director of the Children’s Partial Program at Bradley Hospital, to help you stay focused on what’s truly important this holiday season.

What do I want my child to remember?

That is an important question for families to ask this season. Dr. Walters says, “Chances are good it’s not a marathon shopping day at the mall with a stressed parent.” Instead, she recommends that you choose a few special activities that can form the basis of a holiday tradition for your family. “Children rely on ritual as a source of comfort, safety and connection – never more so than at busy times of the year,” she adds.

Her recommendation? Activities that best represent the values you want to instill in your children can be the foundation for family tradition. For instance, families who value religion might think about choosing an activity that centers on a connection to your church, synagogue or mosque. If social justice is a high priority for your family, perhaps find an opportunity for the family to volunteer with a local charity or service organization.

A day of cutting your family’s Christmas tree or taking a nature hike focused on the winter environment with your family might be ideal for families who value the great outdoors.

Other tips to reduce family stress:

  • Set expectations in advance. When children know what to expect and have talked about it with their family, it helps parents set the stage for the holiday you hope to have.
  • Stick to your budget. Ask children to list a few special gifts they would like and let them know they will receive one. It’s a great opportunity to discuss the importance of families spending time together rather than focusing on spending money for material possessions.
  • Ask for help. Don’t try to do everything on your own! Offer to trade off play dates with a friend’s family so you each can have a day to prepare or shop or wrap without children underfoot. For family gatherings, split up the tasks so everyone has a part in the event. 
  • Take care of yourself! Be sure to sleep enough, avoid overeating or drinking, and if you can’t fit in regular exercise, try to get out for a walk when you can, even for a few minutes.
  • Plan ahead. Talk to children ahead of time about changes in routine, even when they are meant to be enjoyable.
  • Travel time. Make sure to pack snacks and activities if you are traveling. Do your best to keep bedtime and mealtime routines intact. Tired or hungry children are often cranky children.

A final tip:

“As a parent, try not to focus on doing it all. When you are stressed, your children feel it,” Dr. Walters said. “Do you really have to put up all of the decorations? Do you have to say yes to every invitation or request?” You can most likely say no to those questions and still feel you’ve had a fulfilling holiday.

Families that may feel that things are out of control or are having trouble coping, can call 1-855-KID LINK (1-855-543-5465) or visit www.bradleyhospital.org.

Wishing you all a wonderful, stress-free holiday season!