6 Steps to Help Manage Children’s Holiday Stress
Children usually look forward to winter holidays with joy and enthusiasm. Sometimes, however, holidays can bring stressors that are new and overwhelming for kids.
Kids experience stress during the holidays for a number of reasons. For one, when the adults around them experience greater than normal levels of stress, kids mimic the model. Additionally, the break in routine and often frantic pace of activities is something kids aren’t always prepared for. Finally, new people and additional family members visiting can overwhelm children.
All of these things can be good– it’s important for children to experience new things, meet new people, stay in touch with distant family, and learn how to handle stress.
Here is how you can help children manage their stress appropriately during the holidays.
Make Sure They Get Sleep
Too many American children don’t get adequate sleep (Gander, 2019). The winter school break is a wonderful opportunity to get them back on track to healthy amounts of sleep.
Sleep is probably one of the best stress relievers and prevention measures. Help your kids keep their normal bed times as much as possible, and allow them to sleep in. The CDC recommends that grade schoolers get 9 – 12 hours of sleep each day, and 8 – 10 for teens (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022).
Make Sure They Get Exercise
Exercise is proven to improve mood and bestows long-term mental health benefits. “On average, young people who exercise more have lower levels of depression, stress and psychological distress, and higher levels of positive self-image,” according to the American Psychological Association (APA, 2020).
It helps relieve short-term stress, too, by releasing endorphins, which increase pleasure. It also puts a manageable level of stress on the body and reduces the production of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020).
Let Them Play
The holidays are a great time for kids to fill up their free time with lots of play. Play has many benefits: it helps them socialize and build connections with playmates, it’s often associated with exercise, and it stimulates stress-reducing processes in the body (Wang and Aamodt, 2012).
This time of year also affords time to play as a family, building trust and connection. Make some time for structure play across generations.
Limiting the amount of activities is important to help kids manage the emotions associated with those activities. After all, even for adults it can quickly get overwhelming going from one place to the next. Take the time to decide what is really important and don’t crowd it out with less important activities. More importantly, allot appropriate time for your kids to reflect on what they should be learning from those activities.
Make Time for Quiet
Reflection is a powerful stress-reducing technique and helps individuals learn how to regulate emotions (Kross, et al, 2011). Time, space, and environment for reflection are the things that you can control.
You might encourage them, and give time, to keep a holiday journal. You can also devote time at the end of the day to sit around a fireplace or in the family room to just talk about the day.
Aside from reducing stress in the moment and making the holidays more enjoyable, these opportunities will likely create the most powerful holiday memories.
Teach Them the Meaning of Holidays
Whether it’s Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or another holiday, there are fundamental values associated with the break. Teach your children what those values are. They probably include some combination of kindness, gratitude, family, and love.
Talking about these fundamental ideals and especially putting them into practice will reduce stress by focusing the mind and engaging in executive thought, moving your mind away from the emotions that can cause stress. It is a path toward mindfulness that also comes with valuable lessons about culture.
Limit Sugar Intake
It’s easy to enjoy sweets and treats during holidays. But parents should be careful to manage the amount of sugar their kids eat at all times, but especially during holidays when discipline can more easily break down.
High sugar intake has been linked to depression and poor mood. The reasons are complex and under scientific investigation, but one probable reason seems to be that processed sugar triggers similar responses in the brain to addictive substances and can hijack a person’s emotions (Knüppel, et al, 2017). Enjoy treats, but don’t let kids overdo it.
Life is stressful, and holidays can be even more so. It shouldn’t be parents’ goal to eliminate kids’ stress, but rather to teach them how to manage it effectively. Be selective about what stressors they need to attend to and teach them how to regulate their emotions during stressful situations.
- American Psychological Association. 2020. How and why to get children moving now. Retrieved Nov. 17, 2023 from https://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/children-exercise-strategies
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022. How Much Sleep Do I Need? Retrieved Nov. 17, 2023 from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
- Gander, Kashmira. 2019. American Kids Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep and It’s Affecting Their Success at School, Scientists Warn. Newsweek. October 25, 2019. Retrieved Nov. 17, 2023 from https://www.newsweek.com/american-kids-arent-getting-enough-sleep-its-affecting-their-success-school-scientists-warn-1466882
- Harvard Health Publishing. 2020. Exercising to relax. Retrieved Nov, 17, 2023 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax
- Knüppel A, Shipley MJ, Llewellyn CH, Brunner EJ. Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Sci Rep. 2017 Jul 27;7(1):6287. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-05649-7. PMID: 28751637; PMCID: PMC5532289.
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- Wang, Sam and Aamodt, Sandra. 2012. Play, Stress, and the Learning Brain. Cerebrum. Published online 2012 Sep 24.