5 Ways to Tackle Holiday Stress in Children

Holiday anticipation can be as positive as a Hallmark card, but for many of us, it can also be a stress-laden feeling. In children, in addition to the joy of reunion, gifts, and ceremony, the winter holidays can also stir up states of anxiety and feelings of uncertainty. However, there are ways in which we can reduce or even eliminate some or all of their worries. In fact, the first step is to acknowledge them as such and not dismiss them as inconsequential. While to a grown-up they may seem trivial, to a child they may feel like the weight of their whole little world.

1. Acknowledge your own stress & be open about it

Even if they do not perceive it explicitly as such, children are almost always in tune with the emotional state of those closest to them. What’s more, they most likely lack the understanding to even name their own emotional states. One easy way to identify and tackle children’s unease surrounding the holidays is to talk openly about it.  

For most of us, the holidays do not necessarily mean a respite from regular life, but an additional layer to everything already on the to-do list. Understandably, this can mean a heightened sense of pressure stemming from deadlines, coordinating with family and friends, expenses, and so much more. The truth is, before it’s time for the anticipated joy, we go through a lot more stress than we’d care to admit.

It is important to normalize these conversations. If possible, start talking about upcoming holidays quite early. Open up about plans, desires, expectations, and above all any worries or uncertainties that you feel. This will most likely be enough to make your child feel safe enough to open up about their own worries. Talking about it early will give you time to mitigate and possibly explain or compromise away at least some of your child’s holiday-related stress.

2. Keep your holiday to-do list short

There are only so many hours in a day and, despite our best efforts to condense doing more things in the same amount of time with the same amount of energy, we might only end up more tired, frustrated, and impatient. While we all do our best to juggle everything at the same pace, to a child it might feel like we are less available. One way to counter this unintentional effect is to include children in as many activities as you can.

As much as possible, curate your holiday to-do list in a way that allows you to share time with the child productively. For instance, opt for safe and simple decorations that a child can help make, as well as set up. If you are home cooking, lean into simple recipes and foods for which a child can also assist during preparation. 

3. Preserve some routine

One reason why some children feel out of sorts regarding the holidays is that it brings about a significant change in routine. You might uncover this during your timely conversations about their holiday worries. If at all possible, identify at least one positive daily activity during which you spend time together and that makes your child feel more comfortable through it all. Discuss ways in which you can adjust your daily schedule so that you can preserve that activity. Furthermore, discuss a backup plan that you can lean into, in case anything comes up and Plan A is no longer doable at any point.

4. Manage expectations

Open discussion, a shared strategy, and creating context for teachable participation already goes a long way to reducing or even eliminating any of the most common worries children may experience during this time of the year. A very important extra step is to manage expectations — not only the ones your child builds up, but also those you have of your child during this time. We are so preoccupied with “grown-up stuff” that we tend to brush away the fact that expectations others have of us can feel like pressure. Children, however, generally lack a coping strategy to deal with that feeling, and it can be a significant source of stress.

This can be amplified during the holidays, when more family and friends get together and there is a strong tendency to express what are sometimes conflicting expectations regarding a child. It is important that you discuss this openly with your child beforehand and make sure they feel that they have a partner in you, that they feel valued for who they are and that their expectations of themselves and of others are also taken into consideration.

5. Put peace before perfection

Remember that the holidays don’t have to fit a particular notion of “perfect” in order to be wonderful and appreciated. Large gatherings, albeit with trusted family and friends, can be overwhelming to children of all ages. It is important that they feel safe to express when they feel overstimulated and, if at all possible, that they have a space set aside where they can safely take a break and wind down before rejoining the party. 

If you think your child might be feeling overwhelmed and anxious during this time of year, or if you need a little bit of help managing your child’s emotions, feel free to reach out to us at Da Vinci Collaborative. We’re always ready to offer support to children, parents, and teachers in need.

Share this post


Monthly Newsletter

Get our tips directly into your inbox.

Every month get a free tip!

Subscribe To Our Monthly Newsletter