Managing Holiday Stress

The following Family & Consumer Sciences article appeared in the December 24, 2015 edition of the Oldham Era.

Dealing with your child’s challenging behavior during the holidays

While we like to think of the holidays as a picture-perfect Norman Rockwell painting, they tend to be the exact opposite and full of stress for everyone around. Think about it — from buying presents and extra food to visiting relatives you hardly ever see, stress can come from all sides during this time of the year.
As adults, we have learned how to cope with at least some of these holiday stresses over the years, but for young children, these stresses can be extremely difficult to handle. As a result, you may find your child acting out more than normal.

Here are some suggestions to help you and your children better navigate holiday stress.

  1. Keep them busy. With colder temperatures and inclement weather, it can be hard for children to burn off their energy. That can cause boredom and restlessness. When some children try to find a cure for their boredom, it can lead to undesirable behaviors. Child development specialists encourage parents to find ways to keep children busy during the season to curtail some of these challenging behaviors. This really isn’t as difficult as it sounds, if you allow your child to share in some of the responsibilities of the holidays like cooking, shopping, wrapping presents and volunteering.
  2. Preparation is key. Ready your child for a visit with relatives you only see once or twice a year. If your children have seen the relatives before, remind them about things they did together the last time the relatives were in town. Realize that very young children may not remember relatives who visited from a previous year. Let your child know you’ll be there for them during and after the visit. Talk with your visiting relatives beforehand and let them know your children may not be exceptionally warm toward them at first and to give the children some time.
  3. Maintain some sense of normalcy. This can be especially difficult if you are traveling to a place your child has never been before, but encourage them to pack familiar toys, books and pillows for the trip. Some children may need to stick to their normal schedule to help maintain their behavior. Try to eat and sleep at the same times. If you are hosting relatives, continue to have your child do their normal chores or participate in any normal activities.
  4. Set realistic expectations. Some of us set unrealistic expectations on big events throughout the year, with the holidays being the culmination. No matter how hard we try, the holidays will never be cookie-cutter perfect. Realize that your children are still children, and some of their undesirable behaviors may just be a phase they are going through or normal for their age. A 2-year-old will not likely sit quietly through dinner. A 4-year-old may become impatient waiting to open gifts. A 10-year-old may be bossy, especially to younger children. Keeping this in perspective will help you and your children have a less stressful holiday.

You can get more information about childhood development topics at the Oldham County Extension office.

Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.

Written by Angelica Reina, Senior Extension Specialist.

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