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Kids Get Stressed During the Holidays, Too

The holidays are stressful for parents-the shopping, wrapping and entertaining guarantees that we're exhausted by the time it's over. But, guess what, the holidays are also stressful for your child.

To begin, in order to accommodate parties and rehearsals for the holiday show the school routine becomes upturned during the holidays. This is fun, but for most children routine is comforting and they look forward to the post-holidays when their school day gets back to "normal."

The holiday season often means sleep deprivation. Parties and events typically run later than bedtimes and can be overstimulating. Even one or two late nights can trigger the stress hormone, cortisol, to elevate, causing your child to feel moody, anxious or tense.
In addition, frequent demands placed on kids to be on their 'best behavior' at gatherings may be difficult for them - especially when there are few familiar faces. Finally, hours spent tagging along with you to shop for gifts and supplies, is not fun for children. They find it boring, and inevitably behave badly. Then, of course you become frustrated and yell - not a great cycle for anyone!
While it is difficult to completely eliminate holiday stress, it is important to do your best. Try the following FIVE tips to improve your and your child's holiday experience and behavior:
  1. Sleep is essential: Resist the urge to be the last to leave gatherings. Also, don't give in when your child begs to 'stay a little longer'. You and your child will pay for it the next day when sleep deprivation results in cranky behavior.

  2. Food is fuel: Reduce stress on your child's body by making sure that, in addition to holiday treats, you offer healthy foods. At this time of year, try to rely on home cooking and healthy sandwiches, rather than fast food. Do your best to counteract the inevitable holiday cookies, pies and candy canes.

  3. Shop without a hassle: Kids and the mall-during-the-holidays are not a good combination. Your child will quickly become bored, tired and hungry resulting in bad behavior and then stress for everyone. If you can't shop without your child, do as much purchasing as possible online.

  4. Pick your parties: Don't feel compelled to answer 'yes' to every invitation your child receives. Choose carefully, making sure your child still has some downtime during the holiday season. In addition, when your child must attend mandatory, potentially boring family gatherings, prepare by taking with activities to keep your child occupied. If appropriate, you may also want to bring food that you know your child enjoys.

  5. Manage your expectations: Before taking your child to holiday events, shopping or activities, reinforce your expectations for appropriate behavior. However, don't expect perfection. Kids can't be on their best behavior all the time, so as long as yours isn't behaving inappropriately, let it slide if your child doesn't say thank-you every single time, interact with each person perfectly, or enjoy each gathering.

I wish you a happy holiday season, with at least a little less stress than last year!

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally recognized child and parenting psychologist and author. You can learn more about her at

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