The holiday season is a wonderful time of year. But it can also be a very stressful time! That is especially true for families with children. The additional cost of gifts, overscheduling of events, and overdoing it when it comes to food and drink can make us all stressed out. But did you know that according to a 2010 report from the American Psychology Association, 91% of children are aware of and effected by parents’ stress?

We have some quick tips to keeping your family’s holiday happy and bright.

Don’t do the same thing and expect different results

Traditions are great, but if your family gathering is stressful, maybe you should try something new. If hosting and planning is taxing, maybe another family member could host a family gathering this year. If holiday travel and socializing is exhausting and expensive, then scale back. Keep your celebration small and local.

Don’t expects perfection

No one is perfect. You shouldn’t expect perfection from your children, family, or yourself. This isn’t the time to expect all conflict to disappear just because it is a special time of year. In the midst of the hectic holiday season, it may be best to go a little easier on yourself and others. Focus on staying positive and patient.

Don’t overdo it

The holidays are a time when many of us overdo it in a variety of ways, from eating too much to having one to many alcoholic beverages to overspending.   It is easy to make compulsive decisions and then regret them later. Try to pace yourself and set limits instead.

Don’t try to be and do everything

There is a lot of pressure during the holidays to live up to an idealized notion of the season that has become popular in our culture. There is no ideal holiday celebration and definitely no ideal family! Don’t try to live up to something that doesn’t exist. Also help kids understand what to expect. If shopping and long lines are going to be part of the day or if many family members will be visiting, be sure to talk about these things with children beforehand. Letting children know what to expect can go a long way in limiting meltdowns and misbehavior!

Do be realistic

Keep your expectations realistic for the holidays. In other words, keep it simple! Set realistic goals for yourself. Even go as far as actually writing these goals down. This will help you “see” if your holiday plans are manageable.  Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Do the same when it comes to deciding what the kids can handle. If your little one tends to melt down without a nap, then add some down time to your schedule each day during the holidays.

Do stay on schedule and stick to a budget

Speaking of schedules… You will have a better holiday season and a better new year if you set a schedule and a budget and STICK to it! Planning ahead and scheduling specific activities and chores can keep you from feeling overwhelmed. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan menus, make shopping lists and don’t forget to line up help for party prep and cleanup. It may be difficult, but it is important to keep children on their normal eating and sleeping schedule even during the holidays. Children who are well-rested and not hungry will be better able to meet your expectations when it comes to behavior.

These same rules apply when it comes to your holiday budget. Decide how much you can afford to spend, create a gift list and then shop based on your planning rather than impulse buying. For children, your time is always more valuable than a new toy. One suggestion is to enjoy free activities like looking at holiday lights or playing together in the snow! Just remember, overspending can lead to further stress and depression when the extra bills arrive after the holidays.

Do say no and ask for help

Don’t feel obligated to say yes to every request and invitation. This will only leave you feeling resentful. Friends and family will need to understand if you cannot participate in every activity or function.

When you do feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask others for help. No one person can do it all. This is where kids can make a difference and get a chance to feel useful. Children can help with decorating, cleaning, and even cooking and baking when age appropriate. Their work may not be perfect, but allowing your child to help and thanking them for their efforts can go a long way in building self-esteem.

Do take a deep breath

Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. So step outside for a breath of fresh air or inhale deeply trough your nose and exhale from your mouth. Try this five or six times when feeling overwhelmed or impatient. These deep breaths relax the body and can calm the mind. Get your children to try it! At the very least, it may work as a distraction when your child is tired or hungry.

Do have fun                                                                                     

When you stop to think about it, perfect usually isn’t fun! Instead of trying to create the perfect holiday, why not focus on enjoying time with family and friends, even when things don’t go exactly as planned. Break out singing your favorite Christmas carol while waiting in line with the kids. Wear your goofiest holiday sweater or a Santa hat. Of course this is your child’s specialty!  Let them show you how to have F-U-N! Encourage your child to sing a song or tell a silly holiday story. Watch your favorite holiday movies and specials together.

Do get help

Sometimes limiting stress during the holidays is easier said than done. If your negative feelings seem to have control over you, you may need to reach out for help. Talk to a trusted friend, mentor, or religious advisor. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if stress is leading to anger, anxiety, and depression. Call us here at The Children’s Center if you or your family need immediate help: 313.262.1212.  After-Hours Crisis Line: 313.324.8557.

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