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Children and Holiday Stress

Child under stressFamilies want their holidays to be happy for everyone, especially the children. Many parents do not realize that the holiday season can be a time of hustle, bustle and a never-ending whirlwind of stress for their children.

It is important to remember that children (and parents) need to find time to relax and enjoy a wonderful time of the year. How can children relax when they see their parents running around frantically shopping, baking, decorating and becoming stressed at the thought of blowing the holiday budget after one trip to the mall?

These tips may help both parents and children recognize holiday anxiety and feel less stress.

Signs of a child's holiday stress may include:

  • Tears for seemingly minor reasons
  • Nervous behaviors such as nail biting and hair twirling
  • Physical complaints including headaches and stomachaches
  • Regression to younger behaviors: bedwetting, temper tantrums
  • Withdrawal from school, friends and family
  • A change in your child's regular behavior

Here are some ways to reduce stress for the entire family:

  • Remember routines - For parents of small children, this is especially good advice. During the holidays, children will find their routines disrupted. They are often dragged along on shopping trips or taken to special events. They stay up past bedtime and eat too many holiday goodies. When a routine is broken, stress can result.
  • Say "No" - You don't have to accept every invitation to cookie swaps, parties and gift exchanges that you receive.
  • Nutrition - Have you ever noticed the lines at fast food restaurants as the holidays approach? The lines are getting longer because people are often too busy to go home and cook a nutritious meal. Add all of those sugary holiday treats, and you end up with a stressed out, hungry family. Plan at least one healthy meal for the family every day. Take the time to talk and enjoy being together as a family.
  • Family traditions - Many don't realize how important traditions are to themselves and their children. Family traditions offer great comfort and security for children. What are your family traditions? Perhaps your family would enjoy creating a holiday calendar or baking cookies together.
  • Attitude check - Both children and their parents need to have an attitude check before the holiday season begins. Take a deep breath, and have everyone in the family pledge to make the holiday season a time of joy and peace. The less holiday stress you feel, the more relaxed your children will be.
  • Rest and relaxation - Everyone, especially a child, needs to take a "time out" over the holiday season to rest and relax. A well-rested child will be much happier on a trip to the mall than one who is in need of a nap. Schedule some rest and relaxation time for everyone in the family.
  • Favorite things - If you are traveling for the holidays, bring your child's favorite blanket or stuffed animal. A bit of home will help your child feel more comfortable.
  • Laugh - Laughter is still the best way to beat stress and change everyone's mood from bad to good. Lighten the mood with funny movies, sledding or cozy chats over cups of hot chocolate (don't forget the marshmallows).

Make a stress-free holiday your new family tradition! Fond memories of the holidays are a beautiful gift you can leave with your children. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the holidays may be one of the few times when you can offer a present that only you can give — priceless memories of a holiday filled with fun, love and laughter for the entire family.

For more behavioral health information, call:
Anne Arundel County Department of Health
Adolescent and Family Services
410-222-6785
or visit these websites:

Anne Arundel County Network of Care
American Psychological Association
American Counseling Association