Helping Your Family Manage Holiday Stress
Not much has felt normal this year – and this holiday season may feel difficult for many families. Whether they celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanza or Christmas – the stress brought on by fears about COVID-19, sadness over lost or ill loved ones and the need for social distancing is leaving many parents wondering how to get through the holidays. I feel this stress too and am sad my family will not all be together.
To help your family – start by taking care of yourself. We all know healthy eating, regular exercise, and sleep make us feel good and reduce stress. There can’t be a more challenging – or more important – time to stick to healthy routines than during these holidays! Beyond this wisdom, there are other steps that can help. Here’s my plan for getting through:
Keep traditions. Whenever possible stick with your usual holiday traditions. COVID-19 has taken away so many of the things that we enjoy and make life feel normal! Kids will be reassured by tradition – look for ways to honor what your family most values. Talk about what the holidays mean. Maybe have a family dinnertime discussion to explore this question? Do you want your children to see the season as a time to give to others? To focus on a higher religious purpose? To connect with extended family? Are there any special activities or traditions the family particularly enjoys? Plan together how you will focus on these intentions.
Stay connected with distanced family. Does your family usually have a holiday dinner when you share wishes of gratitude and love? This year you can write these messages to each other and send them in cards. If you usually enjoy singing together – instead make spontaneous phone calls to share carols. My family always has a special brunch with my mother. The recipes we cook are some of my kids’ favorites that are only served on that one special day. We eat while telling riddles, sharing jokes and wearing silly paper hats. This year my mother and I will each cook the same meal – but share it over a video call.
Pare down what you do. Are there any activities or traditions you could skip this year to make the holiday less stressful? Maybe deciding not to send holiday cards will open up more time to take walks as a family. Will spending less time decorating the house allow more time to play games together? It is an unusual year – choose to do what brings you joy and let go of what does not.
Acknowledge change or loss. While this time of year can be filled with joy, even in normal years it may also be a time of sadness. If your family has lost a loved one or undergone recent change (such as divorce, separation, or a move), you may be wondering how to help your children through the season. Start by asking them how they’re feeling. Spend time remembering those who are not with you. Reassure them that it’s okay to feel both sadness and joy at the magic and wonder of the holidays.
Express gratitude. One way to bring more meaning and calm to the holiday season is to find opportunities to share gratitude. Take turns at holiday meals to say what you’re most grateful for. Another way to express gratitude? Writing thank you notes. Have your kids write one a day as they focus on the meaning of the gift they received. Or sit together as a family one afternoon and write them as you look back over the holiday.
Despite all of this, your children may still feel stress. This may be especially true in families that have lost a loved one or job this year. Children of healthcare or other essential workers may also be feeling stressed. When stress affects young children, they may regress – start thumb-sucking or have toileting accidents. Kids of any age can have trouble sleeping when their stress level is too great. Older kids and teens may seem withdrawn or irritable. If you are concerned, reach out to your pediatrician – we can help assess your children and connect you with therapists, psychiatrists and social support.
It may be the simple joys found in spending time together at home, less time on line and more time playing games – that gets us all through this season. And by getting through and staying connected, our children will become even stronger and more resilient. I wish your family a peaceful holiday and hopeful New Year!
Resources For Parents:
My Doctor Online
American Academy of Pediatrics
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