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4 Tips for a less stressful holiday season for you and your kids

I am a child and school psychologist at the Child Mind Institute.

Have a more fulfilling holiday season by minimizing stress before it starts

Between gift lists, wrapping presents, decorating the house, baking and cooking, entertaining and shifting school schedules, the holidays are enough to make even the most organized parent feel stressed and overwhelmed! Let’s not forget that children can often get excited — and even a bit wound up — by the combination of holiday sparkle and changing routines. Here are some tips to keep your family on an even keel while remaining in the holiday spirit and making the lifelong memories that are a hallmark of this special time of year.

Plan ahead

Do you want to have the house decorated before focusing on other tasks? Do you need to book flights by a certain time to lock in prices? Are you hoping for early-bird shopper deals? There are many moving parts during the holidays, so it’s important to know where you want to start. Set specific dates for each goal ahead of time, so you can stay organized and on track. Another tip is to have your children make their holiday lists early, so you can get a jump-start on shopping.

Set behavior expectations early

Since behavior is largely affected by reinforcement (i.e., reward or consequence), holiday lists are a great way to help children stay on track behaviorally. Maybe there is something pricey or particularly important on their list that can be used as an incentive for good behavior. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, remind your child about what you want him to do (e.g., please use gentle hands with your brother) and always use positive language. This sets clear goals and assists with correcting problem behavior.

It’s OK to say no

The holidays are certainly a time of excess, but remember it’s 100 percent OK to decline a holiday party invitation or social gathering request. Overscheduling leads to exhaustion, poor eating habits and lack of sleep — so it’s no wonder New Year’s resolutions are the way they are! You know what pace works for you, and it’s important to maintain a schedule you are comfortable with so that you can enjoy the holidays without being too exhausted. Also, remember it’s OK to say no to a toy on your child’s holiday list. Limits are important, especially if the toy is too expensive or unsafe.

Practice positive holiday behavior ahead of time

The holidays are a great opportunity to practice social skills and manners with your child. This can include reviewing how to play nicely at holiday parties or going over tips on interacting with family members at large gatherings. If your child has a particular difficulty, hone in on that specifically. For a child with sensory processing issues, that could mean purchasing noise-cancelling headphones so that he can enjoy the parade with the rest of the family. For a child with language difficulties, it might mean practicing what to say when someone gives him a present or how to politely decline a party treat.

Remember, fun and joy are the goals of the season. If things don’t go perfectly, that’s OK. So what if your wrapping’s a bit wrinkled and your cookies are overbaked? At the end of the day, it’s the thought that counts. Have a wonderful and safe holiday season!

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