As much as parents try to lean into the joy of the holidays with our kids (the decorations! the parties!) they can be utterly exhausting. And while this time of year can be something kids look forward to—with days off from school, more time with friends and family, and lots of presents—it can also be filled with stress and anxiety. This is especially true with the increase in respiratory viruses, an election season, and non-stop social media. We talked to Hopscotch Clinical Advisor, Beatrice Wood, Ph.D., ABPP, about how to help your kids manage these challenging feelings so you can create a positive experience for your family.
Encourage Positive Conversations Around the Table
Oftentimes during the holidays, conversations among family members can get tricky as current events, politics, or personal challenges are discussed. These discussions can potentially be detrimental to children and teens (as well as the adults) whether they’re observing or participating in them. Instead, develop strategies to intercede early and redirect such conversations, for example by stating, “Let’s talk about something else today so we can feel good together as a family. We can talk about the other stuff later.” If the conversations continue, you can respectfully, but firmly, ask to postpone these discussions to another specified time. You can also choose another family leader, or perhaps the host, to do this if you’re not comfortable.
Prepare for Difficult Interactions
Your kids may have someone that they don’t like who is going to be present during the holidays—it could be a cousin who has bullied them in the past or a relative who asks them personal questions they don’t want to answer. In this situation, it is important to allow the child or adolescent to express their feelings with you (or with their provider if they are seeing one) before the holidays. This can be an opportunity for you to prepare the child or adolescent for their upcoming interaction with this person. You can work with them to create an actionable plan that they can enact during moments when they have to engage with this person while still feeling good about themselves.
Address Family Loss Compassionately
Some kids may struggle during the holidays due to the association with a significant loss in the family or among their friends. In a pre-holiday session, you can validate the child or adolescent’s feelings and allow them space to talk about their sadness and worries. If it is a family member, invite the child or adolescent to share more about this family member’s contribution to the family’s life and traditions. Explore with them how the person’s characteristics and way of being with the family might be continued in the holidays. You may ask, “How can you bring that person to the table (or to the holiday celebration) even though they aren’t there?”. It would be an even better experience were the caregivers and siblings to join in such a pre-holiday session. This allows the family to grieve together, support each other, and also explore ways to keep this person’s memory alive and positive during the holiday season.
Manage Your Kids’ Expectations
Most kids look forward to gifts during the holiday season, but more expensive gifts may not be feasible this year. Talk to your child about what their expectations are surrounding gifts and what they are hoping to receive. Plan a course of gift-giving for one another that does not require money. As a parent, you might like having someone do the dishes for a week or wash the car. Your child might like a video game partner for 5 games, baking/grilling together, or having one-on-one time. They can even wrap these gifts by writing what the gift is on paper inside a box. Doing this allows everyone to have something to look forward to, presents to open, and gifts that involve quality time with their loved ones.
The holidays bring unique challenges, but proactively working with your child to create a positive environment and space for them to express their feelings while empowering them with coping strategies can make their holiday season a little brighter.