All families deal with stress at one time or another. But during the holiday season, stress is more common and can be much more difficult to handle. With the images of “perfect” holidays we so often see in magazines and on TV, parents and children can begin to develop unrealistic expectations for both ourselves and our family members.
Before we know it, the holidays have passed us by and we were so busy we didn’t even get to enjoy them with our children!
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> Listen to our Parenting Today segment with iHeart Radio: Holiday Stress
What does stress do to families during the holidays?
Every family reacts different to stress during the holidays. But some of the most common effects include:
- Arguments, fighting and other poor communication skills are more common during the holidays
- Fatigue, health problems and general exhaustion because of busy or unusual schedules
- Confusion (especially in children) about the real meaning of their family’s holiday, other cultural traditions, etc.
- More dependence on food, alcohol and other substances
Why doesn’t anyone else seem stressed?
They must be hiding it! Just as all families experience different effects of stress, they also deal with stress in different ways. We’ve all seen children acting out at a busy shopping mall or a couple arguing over finances. But families can react in different ways. Some might stop communicating at all, while others communicate only by fighting.
It’s important to remember that your family is not alone! The holidays-with busy schedules, high costs and long to-do lists-are a natural trigger for more stress than normal.
If your family gets stressed out, that’s okay! The important thing is how you choose to handle the stress.
Work together as a family to fight stress.
- Talk about your feelings during the holidays. Keep the lines of communication open so that every family member feels comfortable voicing their feelings if they start to feel stressed out.
- If you think your kids might be getting overwhelmed by all of the activities and events, ask them about it. Let them know it’s okay if they need a break. Then take action. If late bedtimes and crazy schedules are wreaking havoc on their behavior, you might need to say “no” to hosting this year’s holiday party. Spending a quiet night at home with the family will help your kids feel better and shows them that above all, your family comes first.
- If you find yourself getting stressed out, do the same thing. Your behavior can set the tone for the rest of the family. When things get crazy, it might help to sit down and talk to your children about it, if they are old enough. If they know you’re choosing not to do something (like attend a neighborhood party) because you’d rather spend quality time with them at home, they’re more likely to understand and be happy with your decision.
- Set “Family Priorities” for the season. One of the biggest causes of family stress during the holidays is simply TOO MUCH to do in a short period of time. From holiday cards to shopping for gifts to attending parties and cooking big meals, we often try to squeeze too much into a short period of time and end up not being able to enjoy any of it!
- This year, sit down as a family now and make decisions about the traditions that are most important to all of you. You might be surprised to hear that your child is more interested in attending a service at your place of worship than spending all weekend baking cookies in the kitchen.
- If you usually make a formal holiday dinner, consider ordering pizza this year and having a picnic by the Christmas tree. Your kids will probably appreciate this more (and might enjoy the food more!), and you will have more time to enjoy the special night with them.
- If you usually spend days dragging your kids to the shopping mall to buy gifts, go online this year. Older kids will be able to help by picking items out, and younger kids will be much happier if they can stay at home while you’re “shopping.”
- Get everyone involved. Once you’ve made your list of priorities, get everyone involved. Too often, parents are running around like crazy trying to make everything perfect for their kids but don’t get to spend quality time with them. Plus, kids will feel good when they feel they are an important part of the process.
- If you’ve decided that your family wants to send out holiday cards, make it a family affair. Someone can sign, someone can seal, someone cam stamp. Everything may not be done “perfectly,” but that’s okay. You get to do something as a family and also cross something off your to-do list.
Master the toughest stress-busting skills to limit stress from the start:
- Learn to say “no.” It’s not easy, but it makes a huge difference. Fewer activities on your calendar means more time to relax with your family! If you feel guilty about saying no, remember that saying no means you are putting your family first, and you can always feel good about that.
- Limit travel. On top of everything else, long trips can be more than your family can handle during the holidays. If you still think it’s important to see your family and friends, suggest you visit them a bit later in the year when things calm down and you’ll be able to enjoy the visit more.
- Spend smart. Financial pressure is another leading cause of family stress during the holidays. Parents often go overboard in spending and end up neglecting the importance of quality time with their family. This year, make the switch! Concentrate more on how much time you are spending with your family instead of how much money you are spending on them. It’s always a better investment!