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The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year: time for families to take a break from busy schedules with school, sports and activities, time to relax and enjoy fun times with family. But children can easily become overstimulated and even stressed during the holidays, especially if they sense stress from their parents. But there are some simple steps parents can take to reduce stress–for themselves and their children– over the holidays.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers some suggestions for focusing on children’s mental health during this busy time of year. And our practice has a few thoughts of our own after many years of raising and caring for wonderful children in our community from a range of backgrounds.
Holiday Mental Health Tips: Some Guidelines
Here are some excellent holiday mental health suggestions from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Keep family routines as close to regular schedule as possible, including meal times, naptime and bedtime schedules.
- Adults should take care of themselves physically and mentally since children are especially in tune to stress from caregivers.
- Make it a holiday tradition to give to others. Study after study shows the positive mental health effects of helping others. This can include anything from volunteering at a local food bank to singing in a nursing home.
- Be sensitive to any feelings of loss or isolation that happen during the holidays. Encourage your child to talk with you if he feels sad or overwhelmed.
- Don’t feel pressure to overspend on gifts. Encourage exchanging handmade gifts with a focus on the care and thought that goes into each one.
Holiday Mental Health Tips from LPA
Our years of experience as parents and practitioners have helped us come up with our own list of suggestions for reducing stress during the holidays.
- Make sure your child continues to eat nutritious, balanced meals and limit sugar. While indulging in holiday treats is to be expected, it’s important not to overdo it. Too much sugar can cause meltdowns in even the most even-tempered kids. Also watch for colored dyes in holiday treats, especially if your child has a sensitivity. Make sure that fruits and vegetables don’t go by the wayside. Try including new vegetable dishes in your holiday meal planning–this may be the year to try cauliflower gratin or roasted brussels sprouts–you might be surprised!
- Make sure you and your children have had your flu shots. Staying physically healthy is a key way to keep from getting run down and emotionally exhausted. It’s not too late to get vaccinated if you haven’t had time to schedule a shot.
- Get outside: take a family walk in the woods, build a snowman, explore brightly lit homes in your neighborhood or go caroling with friends. Go sledding or try a winter sport together. The energy release is key and will help keep sleep schedules on track.
- Limit screen time. The holidays often mean new electronics and new games for favorite consoles. And while it’s fine to indulge in a little extra screen time compared with a school week, don’t go overboard. Instead, encourage everyone (parents included) to play a board game, watch a family movie or spend time outside.
- If you have teens, let them sleep in just a little. Research is increasingly showing the benefits of later wake-up times for teens. Many of them are overscheduled and stressed with school-related pressure and activities, so it’s important to use the holiday break as a time to rest.
- Keep gift giving simple. Overdoing it on gifts can actually be stressful, creating a sense of entitlement and unrealistic expectations and causing confusion for lower income friends. Many families are now moving toward gifting experiences, especially fun things they can do together.
- Appreciate the small stuff: We put a lot of importance on family events, but often the best times over the holidays happen during those small moments: picking out a Christmas tree, cooking as a family or taking a break from the hustle and bustle of shopping with a lunch out with your teen or tween.
- Say no when needed. You aren’t required to attend every holiday event or gathering you’re invited to. Choose carefully and pick events that you know won’t put pressure on your family.
Happy, Healthy Holidays from Loudoun Pediatric Associates
We wish our young patients and our families a very happy holiday. If you are concerned about your child during this sometimes overwhelming time of year, we encourage you to check out the mental health resources on our website or call our nurse triage line.