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Special Needs Awareness

Prepare Children for the Holidays

Tips for Ensuring a Stress-Free Holiday Season

December 01, 2009
Once again the holiday season is upon us. Christmas lights, holiday music and family get-togethers dominate our thinking and experiences.

All families want their holidays to be filled with joy — especially for children. Unfortunately, too often all of this activity and high hopes lead to stress and anxiety. With this year's additional economic strain, the typical hustle and bustle of shopping, baking, decorating, hosting and traveling likely will be even more stressful than usual.

Most adults are aware of these stresses and can work to overcome for them; however, we might forget that children are affected by stress as well, and that they can be especially vulnerable at this time of the year.

Children can experience holiday stress in a number of ways. Following are common signs and symptoms to watch for.

· Physical complaints such as headaches, stomachaches and fatigue

· Tearful and whiny behaviors with no obvious cause

· Withdrawal from family and friends

· Increased oppositional or defiant behaviors

· Less interest in holiday traditions

· Problems with sleep

· Increased attachment behaviors (don't want to leave your side)

As you make your way through this holiday season, watch for those signs, but also take measures to reduce stress on your children. The following tips will help.

Manage Your Own Stress Effectively. If parents are stressed during the holidays, their children will pick up on those feelings. Set realistic expectations for yourself. Don't over-commit to family and friends. Share holiday responsibilities and duties with your spouse or other family members.

Maintain Routines. The holidays often disrupt our basic routines; it helps if we stick to the schedule as much as possible. Make sure children are in bed on time. Maintain typical daily activities. Make sure your behavioral expectations for children remain consistent.

Schedule "Down Time." During these busy times, it's important to take "breaks" from the activities and preparations of the holidays. Schedule rest and relaxation times for everyone in the family. A well-rested child will be able to tolerate stress more effectively.

Have Fun. Busy schedules and deadlines have the potential to drain the fun out of the holidays. Slow down and take time to laugh and joke with your children. Plan your busy schedule to allow for plenty of fun.

Eat Well. Make sure your children are eating nutritious foods and that they are drinking plenty of water. During this busy time, we often rely too much on fast foods, processed foods, sweets and holiday treats to get us through the day and meet deadlines.

Educate Your Children About Holiday Stress. Ask your children what they would like to do for fun and relaxation and emphasize the importance of relaxation during holiday breaks. Allow reasonable time for children to engage in activities they love to do.

Increased stress visits virtually every household during the holidays. As parents, we need to make sure we do all we can to make holidays a time of joy for us and for our children. With a little awareness, preparation and planning, we can reduce inevitable stress and make sure everyone has a merry and memorable holiday season.

Dr. Jim Dalton, Psy.D., HSPP, is a licensed child psychologist, and the Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Damar Services, Inc. Visit Damar online at www.damar.org

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