Dr. Rachel Kramer
December 2: Tips for Managing Holiday Stress
In early November I started drafting a message about planning for the holiday season. At that time, many families in my practice were starting to feel optimistic and were planning a much more ambitious calendar of holiday events than was possible last year. Now here we are about a month later and the appearance of the Omicron variant has many people feeling worried and uncertain about how to proceed with holiday plans. Ugh.
If you find that some of your holiday plans are changing and may need to be cancelled or scaled back because of health and safety concerns, you might find it useful to re-read my post from late fall of last year about managing the holidays during the pandemic. If your family is proceeding with at least some holiday plans, I’d like to share some tips for managing holiday stress:
Begin by developing a clear sense of your own priorities and expectations for the holidays.
Is there an event that you consider essential to your holiday celebration?
Are there some holiday activities that reliably produce a lot of tension and may need to be tweaked this year (or ditched all together)?
If you are parenting with a partner, review your goals together and adjust plans and expectations accordingly.
Similarly, consider the expectations of close family members and friends with whom you will be celebrating regarding both holiday planning and pandemic safety. I encourage you to have these conversations early so that you can discuss, adjust plans, and compromise as needed.
Last year, some families relished the experience of a holiday season that followed a slower pace and felt less frenetic. If this was true for your family, consider how you can bring some of that perspective forward and incorporate peaceful moments into the holiday season.
In addition to thinking about health and safety, take a developmental perspective and consider your child’s age, developmental stage, and temperament as you decide how to manage holiday events.
Remember that sometimes less is more. Be open to refusing some invitations or perhaps sending only part of the family to certain events while other family members enjoy some cozy time at home.
Spend some time thinking about developing your own family traditions and rituals, which may be different to those you observed pre-pandemic. Remember that the most meaningful traditions for children often involve simple activites that you share as a family such as decorating a gingerbread house or going on a moonlight walk.
Preview expectations with children as a way to structure for success. For example:
“In our family after we open a gift we look up at the person who gave us the gift and say ‘Thank you’.”
“Aunt Charlotte lives alone so she is used to a very quiet house. When you have a lot of energy or want to make some noise let’s make a plan that you go play in the yard.”
“We haven’t seen your grandparents in a long time. They really want to spend time with you so we’re going to have some extra rules about putting phones away during the day.”
As much as possible, stick to routines for sleeping and eating.
Provide outlets for physical activity and, if possible, time outdoors.
A couple of thoughts which are particularly relevant to families with young children:
Set an intention of respecting your child’s feelings regarding holiday traditions. If your little one balks at participating in a holiday activity, remember that there will always be next year to snap that perfect photo, sit on Santa’s lap, or wear that fancy outfit. This year may not be the time.
Limit discussion of upcoming events to those in the very near future. While you may be very excited to attend a skating party, your 3 year-old may be better served by hearing about it the day before (or morning of) the event.
Look at photos together to help young children remember past holiday celebrations.
Keep in mind that this can be a wonderful time of year to have conversations with children about the fact that every family has their own holiday traditions and to support children in being open-minded and curious about different ways of celebrating.