For most children the holidays are happy, fun and exciting. There's a break from school, and a chance to spend time with friends and family. There may be special food, music and family traditions. However, for some children, the holidays can be stressful and confusing. Family plans and celebrations may be complicated by family changes. The holidays can be a difficult time for children who have lost a parent, sibling or close relative.
We sometimes get "in over our heads" in preparation for the holidays. We spend so much time getting ready for a holiday, we have a huge let-down when it comes, and we say, "Is this all there is?" Something we have planned for months, is over in less than a day.
The following are some tips for parents to help children cope with holiday stress:
Discuss holiday plans in advance - Let children participate in decisions. Children need some degree of predictability as prolonged uncertainty, constantly changing plans or last-minute decisions can all increase stress.
Don't over-schedule - You may not be able to do everything or see everyone. Children can easily get "burnt out," overtired and cranky during the holidays.
They just need your time - Don't try to compensate for an absent parent with extra gifts or toys. What most children really want is your time, attention and reassurance.
Enough sleep - Make sure children get plenty of sleep. While it may be exciting to stay up late, lack of sleep often leads to increased irritability.
Keep it simple! - You can enjoy holidays by keeping them simple and finding shortcuts to many activities you do. This may be the time when the extra cost of frozen pies to bake, and store-bought cookies is worth the extra time you will then be able to spend with your children.
Use your time wisely - Take time to read to the children. Have personal chats with each child. Go for a walk and explore the outdoors with the children.
Listen to what the children are saying - Children may have mistaken conceptions of the holiday or what is happening. If you really take time to listen to conversations during free play and other times, you may be able to understand their perceptions and help correct misunderstandings.
Share your activities - Children will enjoy knowing that they are helping you. They also feel they are part of the holiday when they can do some special things for it. You may also want to think about sharing the activities with another family. Activities can then be divided and shared with each other
Take time for yourself - You will be more efficient if you take care of yourself both mentally and physically. Ask for help when you need it. You do not need to be a super person! No one is going to praise you when you have exhausted yourself and cannot enjoy the time with your family. Above all, plan to enjoy the holiday yourself. Take time to “stop and smell the roses”.
Most children, even those dealing with loss or family changes, can and do enjoy the holidays. However, preparation, patience and honesty can help prevent conflict, reduce stress and enhance the holiday season for the whole family.
BIS Abu Dhabi School Counselling Team