Reducing Stress This Holiday Season

Article at a Glance

  • Creating the perfect holidays for our children adds stress that can affect the whole family.
  • Setting realistic expectations and deciding what matters most can make the season less stressful.
  • Give your children structure and predictability by letting them know what to expect each day.

We all want to create the perfect holidays for our children, but sometimes our best efforts backfire. Instead of creating idyllic moments around the fireplace, we end up stressed out and cranky.

Unfortunately a lot of this stress can be passed down to our children, the very people we were working so hard to make happy. Do your family a favor this year and learn how to put the joy back into the holidays.

Here are some great tips for reducing the stress levels in your home.

Managing Your Own Stress: Parents set the tempo for the house. If you are frazzled and stressed, everybody is going to feel it. Sacrificing your own sanity for the sake of others doesn’t ever work as well as you think it is going to.

Decide What Things Matter Most: It is impossible to do it all over the holidays, so instead decide on the things that are important to your family. Deciding what things are important first makes it easier to identify the things that aren’t. Don’t be afraid to say no to parties or to get rid of traditions. Family traditions are important, but not if they are only causing a lot of stress. Saying no can be hard, but it is easier if you have already talked about it with your family and have their moral support. Just remember to be polite but firm.

Set Realistic Gift Giving Expectations: A lot of stress can come from trying to get everything on your child’s wish list. Instead use this as a time to teach your children about budgeting. And the sooner they learn that things don’t equal happiness, the happier you will all be.

Be Sensitive: If your family has recently experienced a loss, if a family member is on active duty, or if you are a split or blended family, the holidays can be an especially stressful time. Your children might be coping with feelings of loss or struggling with how to make multiple families happy. Giving them a nonjudgmental and safe place to vent their feelings can be a tremendous help. So can being aware of any unfair demands you may be putting on your child.

Feelings of Inadequacy: Just like you, children often feel inadequate. They might worry about how they will do at their school performance or feel bad if a friend doesn’t buy them a gift. Let them know of your unconditional love. Teach them that true happiness comes from how they feel about themselves, not what others think.

Service: Reaching out and serving others helps us stop focusing on our own worries. It also puts things into perspective. Find a way to serve others this year that you can enjoy together as a family.

Get Active: Physical exercise is one of the natural ways our bodies deal with stress. If you feel uptight, try taking a walk together as a family or hold an impromptu dance party with your kids.

Eat Healthy: Starting with Halloween the holidays become a kind of food binge. But nobody feels good after loading their body with garbage. Indulge, but with moderation. If you know that you are going to be out, pack some healthy snacks for the kids. Hungry kids get grumpy and staving off the hunger with sugary foods isn’t going to help much.

Set up a Schedule: Kids love getting time off from school over the holidays, but the lack of schedule can also be a source of stress. Kids like to have some structure and predictability in their lives. You can make things easier by involving your children in planning for upcoming activities and letting them know what to expect each day. When possible, try to set up a predictable schedule. Resist the urge to just let your children watch TV or play video games all day. And don’t lapse on family rules or chores.

Don’t Over Schedule: Hurrying from one activity to another can be stressful for anybody, but especially for small children. Don’t forget to make time for naps and to unwind. If you are visiting others out of town or if you have house guests, it is a good idea to find ways for your children to get some alone time to recharge. Make sure your kids get to bed on time and get plenty of sleep.

Set Aside Unrealistic Expectations: Nothing breeds disappointment faster than unrealistic expectations. You don’t need the perfect tree, dinner, or family photo. Be careful to set realistic expectations for people too. If your child doesn’t do well in crowded areas or with new experiences, don’t be surprised or upset if your child doesn’t handle the family party well. If your family always arrives late for dinner, it is better to just accept it instead of letting it upset you every year. Try to work around limitations and recognize that nobody is perfect, including yourself.

Children also have unrealistic expectations during this time of year. It can often result in a roller coaster of emotions — anticipation, excitement, disappointment, desire, joy, love, etc. Children are still learning how to manage boundaries and their emotions. If you see your children are getting anxious or wound up, give them some time to calm down. Talk to your children beforehand about what to expect and about what will be expected of them. Sometimes it is helpful to talk through some potential scenarios.

Laughter is the Best Medicine: Don’t forget to have fun! The best thing about laughter is that you don’t have to schedule it in. Cuddle, wrestle, make goofy faces. Decide together as a family to make the holidays a time of peace and joy.

For More Information:

Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping (

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