This is the time of year when families gather for merriment and celebration. Kids are home from school, friends and family travel near and far, and holiday celebrations encourage gratitude and joy. Sounds great – but not very realistic. In reality, having the disruption to schedules, the stress of traveling and events, and having increased visitors can make family time feel more stressful than ever. We’d like to offer some coping tips to help the whole family get through stressful times, and enjoy each others’ company.
The youngest among us: Babies and young children thrive on routine. As much as is possible, try to keep schedules and routines consistent. For very young children, increased exposure to relatives can also mean increased exposure to germs and sickness. It is ok to modify traditions to help accommodate your child’s sleep or snack schedule, or to ask for friends and family to wash their hands before handling a newborn. Having a healthy, well-rested infant or toddler can help mitigate your own stress significantly!
Children: There is nothing like watching the delight on a child’s face as they celebrate holidays, carry on family traditions, and spend time with loved ones. It is very easy, however, for a fun and exciting family time to turn overwhelming! This is normal for children, who are still learning how to regulate their emotions and their sensory experience, and it will help to communicate that normalcy to your child. Help create a calm space, and start teaching your children that it is ok to take a break if they are feeling overwhelmed. When your child is calm, help them reflect on their experience, which will build their emotional vocabulary and their autonomy with self-regulation. (Gentle reminder: Taking a break does not include screen time. Screen time can be useful when needing to keep children occupied, but children should not be taught to distract their emotional experience with technology. Instead, help them calm down by teaching them mindfulness skills, taking big deep breaths, or visualization techniques.)
Adolescents: Even though your teenager may act as though their friends are more important than family, they will appreciate the traditions and quality time spent with extended family and family friends. Work on compromises and negotiation skills with your teen, by helping them identify what activities with their friends are important to them, what activities with family are important to you, and how they can work harmoniously with you and enjoy the celebration. Planning for this in advance helps decrease the surprise you may feel if your teen leaves a family gathering, and will decrease their surprise when they are told “No.” It also helps to communicate the importance that you feel for their opinion and their independence, traits that adolescents value highly in their development.
Young Adults: College aged adults and newly launched individuals may be struggling with how to establish their own holiday traditions while also honoring family members and friends. At this stage of life, many young people are entering relationships and may for the first time be navigating the conflict of which family to celebrate which holidays with. It helps to have these types of discussions in advance of holiday planning time, such as what the traditions are for each member of the relationship, what the value and importance is, and ways that they may feel comfortable sharing that holiday with their partner.
Parents: The “sandwich generation” (those who are caring for young children, and also caring for aging parents) are placed in a position of balancing old and new traditions, managing everyone’s expectations, and making sure that all is Merry and Bright. Making sure that there is designated time for self-care can be helpful, but also a lofty goal for a time-crunched parent. Ask for help, defer responsibility, and increase your tolerance for imperfection. At the end of the day, loved ones focus more on the time spent together than on the quality of decorations. Setting boundaries also helps, and our directory of providers can be a valuable resource during this time.
The Elderly: For many in this life stage, family members and friends have moved away or may have passed away. Loneliness is a common experience for senior citizens, and that can increase during this time of year. Reaching out to loved ones can be hard, and if an elderly family member does reach out, make a point to actively listen and attend to them. Teach young children about generosity and quality time by volunteering at a long-term care facility, or bringing treats to a hospital floor. Send photos or videos if an elderly family member cannot make it to a family celebration, and don’t underestimate the power of a phone call or an in person visit.
The list above is not an all encompassing list, but hopefully can be a starting off point for a less stressful holiday season. Happy Holidays from all of us at Therapy Hive!