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How Holiday Stress Affects Children
And How You Can Help
We all deal with stress differently, but one thing is certain, as we approach the holidays, everyone experiences more stress than usual, perhaps more than at any other time of the year.
The holidays are a time where we often have to travel, negotiate family relationships, and deal with the expense of gift giving and holiday meals. Worry and anxiety can increase unbearably, and that’s for the adults.
It’s easy to forget that children experience holiday stress too. Watch out for signs that your child may be feeling overwhelmed. You can help reduce excessive stress and make the holidays enjoyable by creating a calm activity schedule, being mindful of your child’s needs, and creating special moments together.
Children Sense Your Stress
It’s not your fault; it’s biological. Studies show that babies can sense stress in their parents and caretakers as early as three months old. Your facial expressions, tone of voice, and muscle tension are clear signals to children about how you’re dealing with stress.
During the holidays, it is easy to become frazzled about finances, frustrated by the expectations of relatives, pressed by work expectations, and worried about keeping up with everything from shopping to home decorating.
Keep in mind that all the hustle and bustle can affect toddlers in negative ways. From 0 to 3 years old, children are often too young to appreciate the excitement and anticipation of the holidays. What they experience instead are anxious adults, disrupted routines, and perhaps over-access to sugar and treats.
How Children Exhibit Holiday Stress
Toddlers have their own ways of showing stress. During the holidays, you may see your child behave out-of-sorts in some of the following ways:
- Crying more than usual and for no specific reason.
- Feeling sick, like tummy upsets and headaches.
- Keeping to themselves and withdrawing from family interactions.
- Increased or renewed tantrums and bedwetting.
- Nervous behaviors like nail biting and hair pulling.
Really, any obvious change in behavior can be a sign of stress and anxiety in children. Most of this stress is picked up from the adults in their lives, because they really have few expectations of their own, especially the preschoolers.
What You Can Do to Ease Toddler Stress
Start by managing your own stress. Since children are so good at picking up the moods of caregivers, taking care of yourself with sufficient sleep, a healthy diet, quiet times, and self-awareness will do wonders for your mood and your children’s holiday anxieties.
Avoid over-scheduling. Even if they cannot express it, toddlers are comforted by routines, and when those routines are abandoned or disrupted by holiday activities, it can be stressful. While you can’t cancel every visit, party, religious gathering, and the like, you can try to get routines back on track as soon as possible. For instance, try to schedule more quiet time the next day and return to a normal bedtime whenever possible.
Regular play that encourage movement, exercise, and (where possible) fresh air are great activities for resetting moods and lowering stress levels.
Holiday treats and eating, however enjoyable at first, can lead to tummy aches and changes in bowel habits, along with stress and anxiety. Watch for too many treats, overeating, and eating extra-sugary things. Have some healthy snacks on hand when shopping or errands may delay regular mealtimes.
Laugh and have fun with your kids. Laughter is nature’s stress reliever, both for you and your children. It can do wonders to make any situation calmer and more relaxed.
Early Intervention Therapies
If your child seems unable to cope with any disruptions to their schedule and is overly excited or uncontrollable during the holidays, they may be hampered by developmental delays.
If your child seems to have a developmental delay, there is a great deal of help and many resources you can call upon. Ask your pediatrician about Early Intervention therapies from TEIS Early Intervention.
At TEIS Early Intervention, our therapists listen to your concerns, assess your child’s individual needs, develop a customized treatment plan, and educate you along the way on simple routine-based solutions to maximize your child’s development in their natural environment.
Early Intervention evaluations and therapy services are available under the Federal Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities. Before services can be provided, an independent evaluation of your child must be completed. To assure impartiality, one agency offers evaluation services while another provides the therapeutic services.
To learn more, call TEIS Early Intervention at 412-271-8347 or visit our Contact Us page to get help today.