The holidays are a stressful time for everyone. There is always too much to do and not enough time to do it. The joy and wonder of the holidays can sometimes be overshadowed by all of the pressures and obligations of travel, entertaining, and gift giving. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can leave many of us feeling overwhelmed, drained and stressed out.
We know as adults that our stress level increases during the holidays, but we often forget that holiday stress and anxiety are common in children too. Their schedules and routines are turned upside down, and it easy for them to become over-stimulated with all of the excitement and changes. This can result in physical complaints like headaches and tummy aches, withdrawal from family and friends, regression in behavior such as a return to thumb sucking or bed wetting, or an increase in challenging behaviors.
For adopted and foster children, the usual stressors associated with the holidays can be exacerbated or intensified due to a history of trauma. Instead of happiness and joy, the lens through which adopted and foster children see the holidays may be one of fear, disappointment, anxiety and stress. Perhaps they have memories of living in a home where there was drug and alcohol use, physical/sexual abuse or neglect, or the absence of a parent due to incarceration. Maybe they spent previous holidays in an orphanage, group home, or multiple foster homes, never knowing what it is like to receive a gift or share the holidays with a forever family. They may be feeling and grieving the loss of their birth family, country or culture. Reminders of these past experiences can trigger our children and cause them to behave in ways that are puzzling and upsetting.
In an effort to stress less and enjoy the holidays more, my family has decided to embrace a “less is more” philosophy this holiday season. Now that my children are teens, I am realizing how quickly time goes by and how important it is to make the most of every moment. Our children are not likely to remember how clean the house was or how many gifts they received, but they will remember the quality time we spent with them.
Here are some steps you can take to make the holidays more peaceful and memorable this year:
1. Is it ok to say no. Know your limits and don’t try to be everything to everyone. The world will not fall apart if you miss a party. Pick and choose events and gatherings that are important to your family.
2. Accept that you cannot eliminate stress from your life. When you feel stressed, acknowledge it, learn from it, and move through it. Model self-regulation and calm for your children.
3. Be realistic about what you can accomplish. Recognize that you are only human and will not be able to do everything on your “to do” list. Prioritize your list so you can check off the most important items first.
4. Make or bake gifts instead of feeling pressured to spend money on the latest and greatest.
5. Instead of trying to change the way your children are feeling, acknowledge and honor their difficult feelings, and help them to cope in positive ways.
6. If you must run holiday errands with your child, plan ahead and set your child up for success. For example, try to avoid peak shopping times, make expectations clear in advance, bring snacks and toys, stay focused on your mission, and don’t try to pack too much into one outing.
7. Have realistic expectations and remember that challenging behavior is not going to magically disappear just because it is a holiday. No holiday will be perfect and not every moment will be picture worthy. Try to focus on what is going right.
8. Maintain a sense of humor! Find reasons to laugh and smile.
9. Take care of yourself and ask for help if you need it.
10. Remember that your children are only young once. Take a deep breath, relax, and make the most of this precious time together.
For more tips on making the holidays more joyful, join us for our monthly webinar on Wednesday, December 4th @ 7:00 pm: Are we having fun yet? Holidays, vacations and the challenging child.