holiday-stressThe holiday season is full of fun, excitement, and tradition.  It’s a time of decorations, baking, and thinking about others.  The anticipation seems to start a little bit earlier each year, regardless of your holiday, which means that the holiday season now runs from the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.  That’s a long stretch of time.

Hidden among all of the fun and excitement are two potentially destructive hidden stressors:  Exhaustion and over-stimulation.

Holiday related meltdowns are to be expected, no matter the age of your kids.

A meltdown (or temper tantrum) is simply a physical and emotional release of pent up stress, exhaustion, and over stimulation.  It’s perfectly healthy for kids to release their stress this way, even if it does earn you a few stern looks from passersby.  Fear not, parents; it’s all part of growing up.  But there are steps you can take to avoid excessive stress this holiday season.  Below are some tips to do just that:

1.Let Them Sleep
Kids need sleep.  Specifically, somewhere between 10-14 hours of daily sleep for the under six crowd, and 8-10 from 7 on up.  Resist the urge to keep your kids up late for holiday related parties and other special treats, and ensure that they get adequate rest.  Lack of sleep leads to stress, exhaustion, and illness.  Holidays aren’t much fun if you’re cranky, tired, and sick.

2. Eat Well
Adults often reference over-eating during the holiday season.  If presented with unhealthy choices, kids will most certainly do the same.  Stick to your normal meal/snack schedule for your kids.  Provide light meals before parties to avoid over-indulgence on snacks and sugary treats.  Offer desserts as you normally would.  Set a good example and be mindful of what your children really need.

3. Limit Parties/Activities
Everyone loves a holiday party.  It’s the perfect time to catch up with old friends and let the kids run free.  Until the kids become over-stimulated, and then it’s just stressful.  Choose the parties that will truly be family friendly and limit the amount of time you spend there.  60-90 minutes of party time is more than enough for kids 6 and under.  Older children might hang in there a bit longer, but behavior shifts quickly when boredom sets in.  Keeping your kids at a party too long can be a set-up for poor choices.  Keep it short and sweet.

4. Factor in Downtime
It can be tempting to sign your kids up for several “camps” the minute school lets out for a couple of weeks.  School vacations serve a purpose.  Your kids are working hard at school, be it preschool or high school.  Allow them some downtime to hang out in pajamas all day, build forts, and just be a family.  Kids need time to regroup and relax.  Downtime is the best gift you can give your child

5. Create Traditions
The holiday season should be about family, tradition, and giving.  Due to the constant bombardment of stuff everywhere, it often becomes about wanting.  Your children will remember the cookie baking, tree decorating, caroling, and stories/games by the fire.  Whether it’s Elf on the Shelf or a countdown calendar, start building traditions that aren’t about toys and stuff.

6. Don’t Force the Photos
I know, I know…everyone wants the annual picture with Santa.  Here’s the thing:  Some kids are petrified to sit on a stranger’s lap and smile.  Can you blame them?  Let your child choose whether or not she’s ready to sit on Santa’s lap or just wants to wave.  And try not to force your kids to pose for big family pictures for long periods of time.  Chances are they will be fairly over-stimulated by the time they even reach the holiday party, asking them to sit still and smile is actually asking a lot

7. Appreciate the Little Things
Instead of focusing on 8 nights of gifts or the upcoming visit from Santa, try to make note of the small wonders of the season.  A favorite activity during this time is to take “night drives” to see the lights and decorations around the neighborhood.  Take time to point out the lights, enjoy the smell of fresh baked cookies, and sit by the tree or fireplace and just read together.  Cue your kids to find magic in small acts of kindness and the simple pleasure of appreciating a beautifully decorated home.

8. Let it Happen
As I mentioned earlier, meltdowns happen this time of year.  In general, the first instinct is to find a way to stop the tantrum.  Although distraction, bargains, and removal from the target as useful tools sometimes a “meltdown” is best.  Children need to release their stress, and often a meltdown or tantrum is the best way to do so.  Let them cry, let them yell, let them let it out…and then help them regroup and figure out why they had so much pent up stress.  A meltdown can be a very good thing.  It gives your child a chance to get it all out and then start fresh.  It gives your child a second chance.

9. Stick to a Schedule
Well-rested, well-fed children are happy children. Don’t push back meal times, or go over into nap times. Remember that young children especially can be particularly crabby if they have not eaten or gotten enough sleep, so it’s important to ensure they continue to get an adequate amount of both, especially during the holiday season.

Decreasing stress will increase holiday joy for the family.