Beautiful lights, holiday decorations, drinking hot cocoa and cozying up by a fireplace all bring wonderful visions of the upcoming holiday season.

The holidays also typically mean a time of schedules and routines being disrupted, less sleep, more time with relatives/siblings, travel, house guests, spending more money than usual, and excitement and/or disappointment over gifts received or not received.

Such issues as divorce, death of a loved one, re-marriage, or separation due to military service also lead to complicated family time. While all this is stressful on adults, it also significantly impacts children/ teens and their behavior.

Just like the flu is contagious….so is family stress. You may notice an increase in temper tantrums, bed-wetting, refusal to follow directions, less impulse control and difficulty staying focused in younger children. In older children and teens you may notice increase irritability, argumentativeness, defiance and talking back toward authority, aggression between siblings, sadness/withdrawal and being extra quiet.

Here are tips to reduce stress in kids and families and keep behavior manageable:

  1. Take care of yourself. Just like on an airplane, adult passengers are reminded to put on their oxygen mask first and then assist their child. Remind yourself it’s okay to say no and to pace yourself through the holidays.
  2. Schedule plans and discuss with children/teens in advance. Set structured activities. ASK what the top 3 things are they want to do over the holidays. Let them participate in the planning process. Write the schedule down. Let kids help with baking, donating old toys/clothes, wrapping gifts, etc.
  3. Focus on the POSITIVE. It is easy to get caught up in all the negative behaviors when you are spending extra time together. It’s important to STOP and notice the positive things your child is doing and tell them specifically what you like. (Ex.” I appreciate you sharing your toy with cousin Johnny.” Or “I really liked it when you helped your sister when she fell.”)  Providing a child with specific, labeled praise will increase the behavior being praised, elevate self-esteem, give the child a sense of pride and show them you were paying attention!
  4. Make sure everyone is getting plenty of rest. Try to keep a regular bedtime routine.
  5. Only make promises that you know you can keep. If you know you can’t afford a certain gift don’t extend yourself and don’t indicate an absent parent will be seen over the holidays if that is out of your control.
  6. Continue (or start!) a family tradition. These memories of regular holiday traditions will last a lifetime!

A little bit of extra planning and preparation, open communication, and patience can make a big impact on providing a healthy, happy, low-stress holiday for your entire family!

Praising children:

  • Praise behavior you want to see more often!
  • Tell child EXACTLY what you like! Be specific!
  • Praise your child in front of family/friends!
  • Praise child for their efforts and/or trying!