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The holiday season is buzzing with excitement as we prepare for family gatherings, office or school parties, gift exchanges, and the inevitable indulgence in all things sweet. But for parents – especially of younger children – it’s not all joy and cheer.
The holiday season tends to inevitably bring some stress alongside all of the festivities, and for many families, it can be one of the most stressful times of the year. This is totally normal – we’ve all felt it! – but there are things that we can be mindful of during the holiday season so that the celebrations are as stress and tantrum-free as possible for you this year.
In my last blog of the year, let’s discuss the stress of the holidays for parents of young children, and what to be mindful of so that every family member can have a Happy Holiday.
Why are the holidays stressful for parents?
While the holidays bring warmth and joy, they can also serve up a platter of stress, especially for parents. But what, exactly, can bring stress this time of year? Well, there are a number of things:
1. Pressure for parental perfection: We’ve seen the Pinterest boards and the mommy influencer accounts, and – let’s face it – they can make us all feel terrible about our own homes. The societal expectation for perfect holiday moments can weigh heavily on parents. Striving to create the ideal festive experience for children, coupled with the pressure of social media, can often lead to feelings of inadequacy and stress.
2. The responsibility juggling act: Parents are typically the architects of celebrations like Christmas or Hanukkah. Not only do we need to figure out balancing work, family, and the added responsibilities of creating magical moments, but the pressure to coordinate festivities while maintaining daily routines can become overwhelming.
3. Strain on the wallet: Parents can also bear the financial burden of gift-giving, decorations, hosting the family meal as well as seasonal activities. Navigating the desire to provide memorable experiences for your children while staying within budget can also add an extra layer of stress for many of us.
4. Family conflict: While family gatherings are a hallmark of the season, they can also be a source of tension – especially if your family isn’t exactly the peaceful type. Navigating different parenting styles, traditions and obligations, and past trauma and difficulties in families can be really stressful, exhausting and anxiety-producing.
5. Tantrums: For most children, the December holidays also come along with a school break. While they’re can be super excited about this, for you as a parent, it can become overwhelmingly stressful. Between managing work schedules, the children being off from school plus trying to enjoy the holiday celebrations, chances are your child has fallen out of their regular routine. This can mean more tantrums and opposition.
What parents should keep in mind during the holidays
With all the aforementioned stressors that come with the holidays, it doesn't mean life has to be total chaos for the month of December. If you have a young child at home, here are some things to keep in mind for the merriest and least stressful season possible.
Stick to routines
Even amid the holiday hustle, try to maintain your usual morning, afternoon, and evening routines. For the little ones – especially children under 4 years old – consistency is key. Strive to adhere to their normal meal times, and don't forget the importance of carrying snacks with you on those busy days filled with errands and visits.
Sleep routines are also one of the most important to keep up with. I know it is hard, but try not to let your child skip naps (if they still nap) – and honor their usual bedtime. This applies even to the nights you are celebrating, particularly if you are celebrating for more than one night in a row.
A well-rested child is less likely to unleash holiday-induced tantrums or be emotional roller coasters.
And getting your child to sleep can help reduce your own stress as a parent, too – personally, I make sure my young one hits the hay within a one to two hour time frame around her usual bedtime. Doing so, then grants me my precious “me time” which is needed even moreso around the holiday season.
Stay hydrated and nourished
This isn’t something that many of us think about when it comes to minimizing holiday stress, but it can go a long way. Make sure you and your child(ren) are hydrated and don't get to the point of being hangry! Thirsty or hungry kids are cranky kids. Especially on holiday outings, make sure there’s a sippy cup or water bottle on hand as well as some food to ensure your child is nourished and hydrated.
Downtime is vital!
As parents, we can sometimes get nervous about “downtime” – periods of time during the day when there is nothing scheduled. Our society can make us feel like we need to have a plan for every minute of our child’s day, especially when they’re on a break from school.
But downtime actually allows for unstructured play, which is beneficial for your child’s development. Whether they choose to play with toys, with friends/cousins/neighbors, or just quietly spend time by themselves, it’s their time to recharge.
So avoid scheduling every minute, and don’t worry about your child having lots of downtime – it’s actually good for them!
1:1 time is important, too
During the holiday, we’re often running around and the December chaos can make it easy to forget that one-on-one time with your child is still as important as ever. Yes, your child is out of school, which can make it seem like they’re automatically spending more time with us at home. But, in reality, sometimes we get so consumed with shopping, wrapping, cooking, working, and on and on – that we end up just shuffling the children around.
Set aside some valuable and dedicated one-on-one time to spend with your child.
Games are a great idea for spending focused time together; you can get a few ideas for what games play with your child that allow you to focus on each other on my blog (here, here, and here!).
Take care of yourself
Lastly, it’s important to take care of yourself this holiday season. When we’re stressed and feeling pressured, we aren’t the best parents we can be – and this can lead to feelings of guilt and shame.
Every tip I’ve given to help with your children, is also needed for you! So be sure to follow all those tips for yourself – take your own “downtime” to disconnect and unwind, get restful sleep, and stay hydrated!
Want more practical parenting tips for children aged 3 to 8? Save the date for my Winter Parent workshop, coming to you in February 2024!
Happy Holidays to all of you – it’s been an honor to walk the parenting journey with you this year. Enjoy the season with your family, and I will see you in 2024!
Christine M. Valentín is a Registered Play Therapist™ who helps children 3-8 struggling with managing their emotions, Parents- who want to improve their parenting skills and Adults - who are concerned about an aging parent. As a Latina therapist, with over 10 years of private practice experience, Christine loves helping people become a more confident version of themselves and develop better relationships within their family. To read her other blog posts, click here.
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