Ah, the holidays. They’re the most wonderful time of the year … until you find yourself dealing with a child in a full-blown meltdown at church or kids running away from you as you try to extricate yourself from an exhausting family Christmas party.
Christmas really is a beautiful time of year as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. And Thanksgiving is, well, filled with thanks—and lots of delicious dainties.
The truth is, though, getting through the holiday season with kids is hard on everyone. As parents, it can be exhausting. And your kids? Well, the bustle of the holidays may be magical, but at times it can also be downright overwhelming.
If you’re concerned about supporting your children’s emotional well-being during the hectic holidays, you’re not alone. Here are a few suggestions to help make the upcoming festivities as fret-free as possible.
The holidays aren’t just busy. They’re loaded with a large variety of different activities. One minute, you’re sitting in the car watching a local Christmas light show and the next, you’re in a bustling family reunion with so much chatter you can’t hear yourself talking.
With so much variation in their surroundings, it’s easy for kids to get overwhelmed as they shift from one activity to the next. That’s where you can make a difference.
Do your best to head off each scenario by setting clear expectations before you arrive. If you’re going to look at Christmas lights, start off by telling your kids what you’re doing (unless it’s a surprise, of course) and then explaining that they’re going to need to stay seated and buckled in, even when you’re pulled over.
If you’re heading to a family gathering, set reasonable boundaries and guidelines for your children to follow. For instance, spell out various behavior expectations and set a time frame for your departure. Not only do these help with logistics, they help your kids feel less stressed.
Be Aware of Sensory Overload
Sensory overload is common for many kids—and there’s nothing like the busyness of the holidays to put it on full display. If you know your kids have the potential to get overwhelmed, either at a certain event or even in general, there are a few ways that you can help your kids stay calm, cool, and collected:
Provide coping mechanisms: If you find that you’re in the middle of a busy event and your child is struggling, it’s helpful to get them comfortable with coping techniques. For instance, deep breathing and exercising the five senses are great calming exercises for kids.
Find outlets for energy: Sometimes kids get the short end of the stick with holiday activities. If you find that your kids are feeling cooped up from too much time sitting in the car or a chair, look for ways to release energy, like riding a bike, going for a walk, or playing in the snow. Ideally, plan ahead and give them a chance to tire themselves out before you are in a “sitting” situation.
Plan resting times: If you know that you’re going to be busy on a particular day or week, look for ways to insert purposeful resting times into your schedule (more on scheduling below). You may also want to create a specific area of your home that uses sensory-friendly lighting, colors, organization, and so on. By proactively planning downtime in a relaxing environment, you can help your kids recoup from the mental strain of so much socialization and stimulation.
Finding ways to manage sensory overload is a great way to nip many of the worst effects of a hectic holiday lifestyle in the bud.
The holidays are an infamous time of year when it comes to routines and schedules. School rhythm is disrupted, as is work and other daily activities that keep a household running smoothly.
The good news is, you can fight back against the madness by creating a completely new schedule specifically designed to overcome the holiday mania.
Start by creating a calendar for your holiday season. Use a good, family-friendly tool like Google Calendar or Picniic and make sure that everyone has access to your family calendar.
Then, choose “down days” that are designated as recovery time for your family to spend together. This doesn’t just give your loved ones the option to check out and recoup from time to time. It also can help you say no if you find that you’re being invited to too many things.
Finally, make sure to maintain communication throughout the holiday season. Despite all the family-focused activities, it’s easy to get disconnected from one another during the holiday bustle. And it’s in this isolation that stress can run wild.
If you want to support your kids, start by ensuring that you’re on the same page at all times. Check in with them often, ask how they’re doing, and request their input on family activities whenever it’s appropriate.
By keeping lines of communication open, you accomplish two things. First, you make sure that you’re aware of the mental state of your kids. Second, you give them the confidence and recourse to reach out when they’re “feeling all the feels” this holiday season.
And Enjoy the Holiday Season with Kids Who Feel Supported
There are lots of ways to support your children and avoid holiday stress this year. From communicating to setting expectations to avoiding sensory overload, if you take the time to prepare beforehand, you can make the holiday season truly special.
So consider the tips above and look for how you can apply them to your own life. Do you need to find a good scheduling app? What about setting up a quiet space for sensory cool-down time? Start planning now, so that you aren’t caught by surprise when Thanksgiving rolls around.
Now you’ve got the kids down pat, but maybe you’re still worried about family drama and financial strain this holiday season. You’ll want to listen in to this podcast episode: Surviving the Holidays with Grit and Grace – 015