Creative Child

Banish the Holiday Humbugs

Grown-ups have eggnog and Xanax to help them combat a case of the holiday jitters, but what to do when the season’s highs and lows prove just as tough on tots? Fortunately, the triggers of holiday stress are easy to pinpoint. Follow these stress-busting tips and your little elves will march merrily into the New Year. 

Overstuffing schedules

The scenario: Come December, most families are inundated with invitations for seasonal outings. Forging festive traditions with loved ones is great, but it’s a short walk from there to an itinerary stuffed fuller than a Thanksgiving turkey. Cue exhaustion (both yours and theirs) and a recipe for major emotional meltdowns.

The fix: Set limits on how many weekly events kids attend, don’t commit to many late-night activities, and schedule in downtime, be it a holiday movie night or an afternoon of crafts. And apply the same rules to your own datebook. Residual scheduling stress often trickles down to children.


Abandoning schedules

The scenario: Kids have only just adapted to school-year routines when the reveling season arrives, and its bustle often does a number on sleep times, household routines, and all sense of regularity in a child’s life. Then the fun winds down, schedules resume, and they’re left battling a second case of back-to-school blues.

The fix: Kids derive security from habit, so try and maintain a loose version of your family’s regularly scheduled program during holiday breaks. Maintain regular chore and sleep routines, don’t mess too much with mealtimes, and pencil in fun, learning-oriented activities near the end of break to ease the January transition.


Overindulging holiday hankerings

The scenario: Their little eyes shine with such delight each time you present a new toy or treat that it’s easy to get swept up in the sparkle. And who can blame you for fudging rules on television-viewing and sweet-snacking when your kids are underfoot for weeks on end? Then the other shoe drops, the giving stops, your kids clamor for more, and you’re left feel like a Scrooge.

The fix: Tame the gift monster by managing children’s expectations and controlling that impulse to spoil or coddle. If money is tight this year, have kids whittle down their wish lists to top picks – and do so without guilt. And if you’re planning to set limits around gifts and sweets, tell friends and family members and ask for their support.


Overdosing on extended family

The scenario: Relationships with relatives are a perpetual source of stress for many adults, and extended family face-time is part-and-parcel to the holidays. Your kids see you glaring at your brother over the crudités or arguing with the ex about holiday co-parenting, and before you can say “Grinch,” they’re griping right alongside you.

The fix: Next time you open your mouth to complain about your not-so-favorite relatives, remember that you may be putting a big, wet damper on your child’s holiday fun, and transferring your woes onto him or her in the process. Air your grievances to sympathetic friends – out of children’s earshot.



Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center:

American Psychological Association:

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