Anxiety

Psychologist Post: Family Stress and the Holidays

The holidays are coming…. When you hear that phrase, does it strike fear and panic (like the little squirrel below)? Does it remind you of family stress? Or does it bring up warm memories of time with your family, eating pie or other goodies in front of a warm fire? If you are like most people, you probably have mixed feelings. What seemed so far off just a month or two ago is now around the corner. Once Thanksgiving hits, it seems like time flies at lightning-speed.

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Holidays can be a tough time of year for many families.

Frequently, as the holidays near, people are engrossed in travel, shopping, holiday preparations, and school activities. Often, people are outside less, receiving less exercise, less sunlight, and less Vitamin D. Commonly, people also experience limited finances, time constraints, and/or increased work responsibilities or lay-offs as the year ends. All of these factors can contribute to difficulties coping with existing stress, even for children and families.

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Some families have additional stress during the holiday season.

In about 50%-60% of families, parents are divorced. In other families, parents are separated. In yet other families, parents can unhappily married. For several families, there may be divorced grandparents, and the baggage that those dynamics can bring. Often, people travel to far off places to celebrate, while others stay close to home. Some people grieve lost loved ones during the holidays, while others welcome new family members through birth, marriage, or friendship. Whatever the issue, the holidays often intensify any existing concerns.

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What can parents to do to help their families enjoy the holidays?

Take Care of Yourself

We know that parent and family stress increases child stress. More than the decorations, the gifts, or the embellishments of the holidays, what a child needs most of all is a healthy, content parent. So try to enjoy yourself, and make efforts not to wear yourself too thin. Find small things to be grateful for, and make the most of each small moment. Obtain support if you need it, and don’t fear professional help. These are common and important issues that most parents face.

Keep your expectations reasonable.

Things do not have to be perfect for them to be good, fun, or healthy. Sometimes, small acts, like cutting out paper snowflakes or walking in the snow can be just as memorable or important as grand or expensive gestures. Remind yourself that children also get stressed and overwhelmed with the holidays, changed schedules, and social obligations.

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Consider things from your child’s standpoint.

Research is clear about a few things that help all children: clear and consistent limits, warmth and acceptance from parents, and no fighting among parents. I would also add: time to enjoy themselves with their own friends or in activities they like. Finally, having time to exercise, catch up on sleep, be mindful, and eat in healthy ways are also important for your child (and for you as well).

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Compromise with the other adults in your child’s life.

Whether it is another parent, grandparents, relatives, or friends, try to keep your child’s needs in mind. Plan ahead and be organized with the visitation or holiday schedules early, so that things run smoothly. Don’t over-pack the schedule so nothing is fun. Rather than fight about who will enjoy your child more, find ways to compromise and avoid conflict where you can. Help your child learn that kindness starts with your home.

Teach your children that the holidays are not just about them.

Encourage and help them to buy a present, contribute a food item, or help someone in need. Encourage some acts of service, even if they are small. Teach them that handmade gifts are fine, and the act of giving is important. Help them to remember their siblings and relatives through cards or other gestures (even if they don’t get to see them).

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Even if things are not as you have planned, find small ways to connect with your child and enjoy.

It may be sledding or playing a game. It may be walking cookies to a neighbor or two. Teach your child that the best gifts or moments of life are small, meaningful gestures. Notice and enjoy the present moment, as well as each other. That is what the holidays are about.

Cindy Anderson

Author: Cindy Anderson

Dr. Anderson is a Board Certified Clinical Child Psychologist. She also owns Hope Springs Behavioral Consultants. Dr. Anderson has achieved a high degree of specialization in working with children and families. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and completed APA Accredited internship and postdoctoral training in Clinical Child and Pediatric Psychology. She prides herself as a life-long student and tries to learn something new every day.

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