Photographs by ChiChi Ubiña

By Stephanie Raia, MSW, LCSW

The winter holidays are upon us and with that comes excitement, parties, visits with the in-laws and more things to do in the same 24-hour day. Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed and anxious about all you have to accomplish in the next few weeks? Well, if you are feeling that holiday stress, so are your children.

The holidays often lead to disruption of our kids’ basic routines including school, naps, meals and sleep. There are family outings, special treats, shopping expeditions and visits to relatives. The stores are crowded and there is traffic everywhere. Adults are charging around making holiday preparations. All of this can lead to irritability and exhaustion for the adults, while taking its toll on our children.

Unfortunately, children are less equipped to handle this stress, because they just haven’t developed the coping skills yet. They won’t say, “Mom, I’ve had enough fun, sweets and presents. I think I’ll skip the party this afternoon, I need a nap.”

As parents, we need to consider our children and their needs as we develop a strategy to help them enjoy a memorable and calm holiday experience.

Here are a few basic tips to help your children enjoy a less stressful holiday period.

First and foremost, try to make sure the kids get plenty of rest, eat well and stick to routines as much as possible. Have reasonable age appropriate expectations.

  • Decide which gatherings to attend and whether or not it makes sense to bring the kids.
  • Don’t expect a 2 year old to sit at an adult holiday dinner table for more time than they can handle. Hopefully there is a children’s table with arts & crafts to keep them occupied.
  • If you are traveling, anticipate delays and be prepared with extra, food, activities, clothes and patience.
  • When things don’t go as planned, try to model your excellent coping skills by verbalizing how you are handling the stress. “I’m feeling stressed, I’m going to take a walk, or do some balloon breathing,” (what ever calms you down).
  • Try not to criticize the in laws and family, as the children will pick up on the tension and may feel conflicted about their loyalties.
  • Volunteer somewhere or participate in giving to others, so the spirit of the holiday is not lost in the tinsel.
  • Schedule down time with your kids to counterbalance the holiday frenzy. Figure out what helps you child de-stress, (playing in the park, reading, watching a movie, listening to music) and do it with them.
Stephanie RaiaStephanie Raia

Embrace the reality that things will not be perfect. The children will fight, someone will spill red wine on the carpet and you may not get the holiday cards out. That’s okay.

If there has been a recent change in family circumstances like separation or divorce, the death of a loved one, a recent move or change in financial circumstances, these additional events will add more stress to their holiday. You need to be watchful for symptoms of stress and be supportive if this is the case. Listening to their concerns is very helpful.

Have a wonderful, imperfect holiday. Relax. Think about what feelings, thoughts and memories you want to cultivate around the holiday and share them with your family.

Your children will not remember an exhausting list of activities, they will remember sharing in family traditions that have special meaning to you.

Stephanie Raia, LCSW
Office in New Canaan: 203-921-5305

Stephanie Raia is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and is a Licensed School Social Worker in the State of Connecticut. She has an office in New Canaan. She received an MSW from Columbia University in New York City. She has specialized training in: Behavior Modification and Positive Reinforcement, Collaborative Problem Solving, Positive Parenting, and Solution Focused Therapy.

A local resident for more than 20 years, she is married and the mother of three children.