Posted: Dec 10, 2013 10:00 AM
 
The winter holidays bring great excitement to young children. And while decorating, baking and celebrating with the family can be a lot of fun, it can also be stressful. The holidays seem to start a little bit earlier each year, and this can lead to overstimulation and exhaustion.

The holiday season is a very busy time for families. Between shopping, parties and school functions, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season can be exhausting for children. Routines are often disrupted and bedtimes pushed back in an effort to attend every function and cross off every item on the lengthy to-do list. Although the holiday season is fun and exciting, stress among children is a common occurrence.

Many children struggle to process and verbalize feelings of stress. They internalize it instead. For children, stress tends to manifest as headaches, stomachaches, sleep disturbance, changes in eating habits and irritability.

While adults tend to have an awareness of stress levels and know when to step back and slow down, many children struggle to process and verbalize feelings of stress. They internalize it instead. For children, stress tends to manifest as headaches, stomachaches, sleep disturbance, changes in eating habits and irritability. It's important to watch children carefully during the holiday season. They might not say what they're feeling, but they will show it.

Parents can take steps to help children avoid holiday overload throughout the season. And with holiday preparations beginning earlier each year, it's essential to put a stress-less plan into place as soon as possible.


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Maintain routine

Most families follow a routine throughout the school year to ensure that kids get enough sleep, get enough exercise and get up and out the door on time each morning. But when the holiday season rolls around, routines tend to be the first thing to go.

Maintain your normal routines as much as possible throughout the holiday season. Routines combat exhaustion and provide a sense of control for kids. When they know what they need to do and when to do it, kids don't have to stress about what comes next. Try not to push back bedtimes by more than 30 minutes on any given night, and feed your kids a light meal before a party if you know that dinner will be much later than usual.

Put your kids first to keep stress to a minimum.


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Promote healthy choices

toffee candy piecesWe all love holiday treats. I'm practically counting down the days until Trader Joe's stocks the shelves with those dark chocolate salted caramels. But you can have too much of a good thing. For an adult, that might mean an upset stomach for a day. For a child, it can change behavior, cause stomachaches and/or headaches and even trigger feelings of anxiety and/or sadness from the constant ups and downs of a diet heavy in sugar and treats.

Focus on healthy eating throughout the holiday season. Add in a few treats here and there, but be sure to balance them out with healthy snacks and balanced meals.

Try to remember that your kids will get their cues from you. Make healthy choices in front of your kids to inspire them to do the same.


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Just say no

Although it's tempting to attend every holiday party on the list, it isn't necessary.

Set kids up for a positive experience by feeding them before the party and setting a time limit.

Parties tend to involve few boundaries and lots of running around, with a side of holiday treats. While parties can be a lot of fun, they can also lead to increased stress. When kids are used to a certain structure, a complete lack of structure (or less structure) can be difficult to process.

Limit the parties you choose to attend with your children. Consider timing (keeping a toddler up too late rarely ends well) and other activities on your agenda. Set kids up for a positive experience by feeding them before the party and setting a time limit. Watch your child for signs of exhaustion and stress, and plan your departure accordingly.


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Focus on family

It helps to take a step back from the constant holiday-themed activities and remember what the holidays are truly about. Focus on spending time as a family. Do a good deed for a neighbor. Cuddle up and tell stories of your family holidays as a child and read your favorite holiday stories.

Too often we get caught up in what we think we need to do to create the perfect holiday, but what our children actually crave is time with us.


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Manage your stress

glass of wine and stack of booksYou have a to-do list a mile long. You have to help set up parties at two different schools. You have gifts to purchase and holiday cards to address. And your kids have been cooped up due to poor weather. Parental stress is also common during the holiday season, and stressed out parents lead to stressed out kids.

Be sure to focus on your own stress management throughout the holiday season. Prioritize sleep, exercise and healthy eating along the way, and avoid taking on more commitments than you can handle. A little "me time" can go a long way toward keeping your stress in check. So grab a book and fill that wine glass — your kids will thank you one day.

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