Managing Holiday Stress
Wrapped up with the enthusiasm of holiday fun, excitement, busyness, activities, and celebration is the grinding buzz of S-T-R-E-S-S! Children experiencing stress may exhibit an escalation of undesirable behaviors or yet exhibit behaviors never before seen. Adults experiencing stress may exhibit decreased patience and tolerance! When the stress behaviors of children and adults mix … it can be a recipe for chaos!
To sail through the holidays with decreased turbulence, choose and implement some options from the list below and see how enjoyable and smooth your holidays can be:
- Develop a simple and easy to follow “holiday – school vacation” schedule. Include the children so that they have a sense of ownership and say over the schedule. It also helps foster children to create a sense of belonging with their foster family.
- 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.
- Search the internet for free online printable holiday coloring pages and activity ideas.
- 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. You will find the candy cottage guidelines in our December 2013 newsletter.
- 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 book.
- 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 times.
- 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). This can be rewarding to children as it provides a framework for what it looks like to help others in need, and it will provide a great story to share with classmates upon return to school. It also can create a sense a sense of inclusiveness as it relates to belonging to a group who’s focus is on needs greater than one’s own.
- 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 changes.
- 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 over-stimulated child can manifest his/her behavior in a variety of ways, which may include: crying, whining, verbal aggression, physical aggression, and self-soothing repetitive behaviors.
- 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 days.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Foster Children – Understanding Emotions and Tips for Coping during the Holidays
For various reasons, the holidays can be a difficult season for many children and adults to navigate. Many of us experience intensified feelings of loss, separation, stress, obligation, financial burden, and grief. For children who were removed from their birth families, the holidays can be an emotional time that is unconsciously associated with negative experiences and such things as disappointment, trauma, or violence. The following tips may be effective in helping a child cope with holiday stress.
- Recognize the child’s feelings; let the child know that it is alright for him to feel the way he is feeling;
- Resist pushing the child into talking about his feelings but let him know that you are there to listen;
- Identify with the child and share a time in your life when you experienced feelings similar to theirs.
- Increase involvement in outside activities to ward off sadness.
- 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 of and keep a new tradition for your own family.
- Have a family conversation about increased/decreased holiday visits with the 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.