Holidays, here they come. The plans, the lists, the guests, the travel, the gifts … how about some JOY?

In general, holidays are exciting and happy times for children and many adults. School is out, parties and special events take place, gifts are exchanged, and familiar traditions recur—a great time for many of us.

But the stress of a busy time requiring planning and work outside the usual day-to-day tasks can cause sadness and confusion for both children and adults. Complications resulting from loss, illness, separation, and other experiences can be hard on children in particular. Families facing these or other changes find that holidays remind us of what is different or missing, especially for children. It is a time that can reinforce loss and other changes often out of the child’s control.

We also know that holidays, no matter which ones we celebrate, can augment feelings of depression. Thinking about ways to minimize stress in yourself and your family and focusing on what is important at this time will likely increase the joy and pleasure of the holidays for you and your family.

Consider some of the following suggestions:

  • Take time to reflect what you want to create in your family as experiences and memories. Consider the needs of your child/ren and yourself. Then design your holiday traditions out of your vision.
  • Identifying the sources of stress can be the beginning of knowing how to change things.
  • With older children, have family meetings and plan together. Enlisting support and enthusiasm is easier when everyone feels connected. Include younger children. Whenever possible, include younger children in planning and preparation. When they are included and know that their contributions are valued, they have an investment in the activities and feel valued themselves. For example, your children may have an idea about the holiday schedule that better meets their needs. When you solicit their advice, then you have more cooperative, manageable children. For preparation, consider having the children create their own wrapping paper with all sorts of things they can cut, paste, draw, etc. Use some of their drawings that are difficult to throw away and take up an increasing amount of space.
  • If they could tell us, our kids might say, “I’m just not interested in the things you want me to be interested in during the holidays!” Our unrealistic expectations of how things should go often set kids up for early and frequent meltdowns.

  • Children love novelty, but they also like their daily routines to be predictable. It gives them a sense of control over their lives, a major stress reliever when lots of things are in flux. If routines are to change over the holidays, give them advance notice. Use pictures or reminders of some kind that will help them manage.
  • Everyone needs to get sufficient sleep and eat well. Not doing so increases irritability and stress for everyone.
  • If there is not enough time in the day to do it ALL, then cut activities by half.
  • Long dinners at odd hours are unrealistic expectations for children. Grant them leave after 30 minutes. Feed them something before if the big meal is to occur outside of their daily schedule.
  • No matter what holidays you celebrate, spend less money. Create a budget and stay within it. The January credit card bill does not have to be depressing.
  • When the children are peaceful, it’s so much easier to avoid stress. Keeping them occupied takes planning, but it is worth it!
  • Try not to take children shopping with you. It’s much easier for the human body to be in constant motion than it is to stand and wait, stand and wait. Our bodies literally become exhausted by having to make our muscles coordinate to stand still for long periods of time. That’s why we get so tired touring museums. It’s even harder for children!
  • Our own stressful behavior affects our children. They are often too young to understand why we might be feeling out of sorts. They can only focus on their own needs. So when we act out, our children are more likely to engage in generally uncooperative behaviors as well.
  • Depression is common during the holidays. Volunteer to help in programs that help others, and include your children if they are old enough. It is good modeling for children to give to others, and they begin to find value in what they have.
  • Give thoughtful consideration to the everyday routines and rituals that occur in your life. They occur far more often than holidays and say much more about family values and priorities than yearly holidays do. How can you enrich the everyday experiences of life for yourself and your children? How can you increase in yourself and your family the capacity to experience gratitude for the abundance and gifts in your lives?