What can holiday stress look like?

For a mixture of reasons, the holiday season can be a difficult time of year for children as well as adults.  Intensified feelings of loss, separation, everyday stress, obligations, financial burden, social commitments, travel commitments, and grief are common links to the stress and emotions experienced during the holiday season.  For children who are removed from their birth families, the holidays can be especially trying. As parents, it’s important to be informed and aware of behaviors that may indicate a child is experiencing stress.  When we are well informed, we are better prepared to manage aberrant behaviors and provide the emotional support our children need during these challenging times.

Holiday stress behaviors can look like the following:  temper tantrums or acting out; increased demand and need for attention; aggressive or regressive behaviors; attention seeking in social situations; increased crying; increased whining; increased self-soothing type behaviors/activities.


20 Tips for providing support:

  1. Recognize the child’s feelings; let the child know that it is alright for him to feel the way he is feeling.


  1. Resist pushing the child into talking about his feelings, but let him know that you are there to listen.


  1. Identify with the child and share a time in your life when you experienced feelings similar to theirs.


  1. Increase involvement in outside activities to shake off sadness.


  1. To increase the child’s sense of pride and feelings of self-worth, explore and implement one or more positive traditions that stand as positive memories from the child’s birth family. Perhaps you will learn about and keep a new tradition for your own family.


  1. Develop a simple and easy to follow “Holiday – School Vacation” schedule. Include the children in the development of the schedule so they feel a sense of say, sense of belonging and a sense of ownership of the schedule.


  1. Provide art and craft supplies and encourage your children to make holiday decorations/ornaments for the home as well as to give to others (birth family, social workers, foster family) as a sentiment of the holidays.


  1. Search the internet for free online printable holiday coloring pages and activity ideas.


  1. Gather the family for a fun-filled afternoon of cookie baking or candy cottage building! To include younger children in baking activities, let them pour premeasured ingredients into a mixing bowl. Older children can participate in more difficult tasks such as cracking eggs or measuring ingredients.


  1. The holiday season is a great time for putting together a “scrap book” or “life book” of photos, school work, drawings, stories, poems, report cards and any other items of information the child wishes to include in this self-celebration


  1. Stick with your home’s existing and established chore list! Routine and predictability are very important to children during low-stress, no-stress and high-stress


  1. Secure an opportunity for you and your children to volunteer in your community (churches, nursing homes, social service agencies and food collection events provide such opportunities). Providing volunteer services can be rewarding to children as it provides a framework for what it looks like to help others in need, a sense of inclusiveness as it relates to belonging to a group who’s focus is on needs greater than one’s own needs, and it will provide a great story to share with classmates upon return to school.


  1. Keep your children updated with family, schedule, routine and agenda changes! To decrease stressful reactions to transitions, give notice of upcoming transitions and pending schedule changes as far in advance as possible.  Make changes fun!  Use the “once upon a time ….” story telling technique to introduce change.


  1. When setting out to do some holiday shopping, limit the number of stores in which you take your child. Most children will reach their maximum shopping potential at around 1-3 stores; this is generally due to the stimulation of noise, smells, people and chaos bombarding their senses.  The behavior of an over-stimulated child will mimic their interpretation of over-stimulation through a variety of behaviors that may include crying, whining, verbal aggression, physical aggression, and self-soothing repetitive behaviors.


  1. Include your children in the decorating of the home! Some children are easily over-stimulated so it may be necessary to break the decorating into sections (tree, inside, outside) and times (morning, evening) and in some instances it may need to take place over several


  1. Blinking lights can be over-stimulating for many children and adults; you may want to consider non-blinking lights and even lights of one color to encourage a less stimulating environment.


  1. Some fragrances can be over-stimulating for many children and adults. You may want to limit your experimentation with seasonal fragrances and stick with those known to have calming effects such as vanilla, chamomile and lavender.


  1. An observable abundance of wrapped gifts can be over-stimulating and lead to undesirable behaviors such as peeking, name searching, and comparing number of gifts between family members and quite possibly meltdowns.


  1. Have a family conversation about increased/decreased holiday visits with biological family as soon as you become aware. In addition, gather the family to review attendance and behavioral expectations at holiday and foster family events prior to occurrence.  By keeping all family members “in-the-loop”, stress and disappointment can be minimized.


  1. Do not hesitate to say “no” to requests, invitations, or anything else that may cause unnecessary stress to you or your family during the holidays.

Find more about Children First Foster Family Agency here.

Author: Children First FFA

Published: November 26, 2019

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