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Helping children through stressful times

Many things can make the holidays and other busy family times stressful for children. Here are some ideas to help children remain calm and peaceful during times of celebration.

August 2006 – Loss of a routine is stressful for many children, most of whom prefer a regular schedule. For school age children on vacation it can be even harder because they also lose contact with their friends. To help, have a list of suggested “things to do today” for the first few days of vacation or time away from the daily routine. You can mix useful tasks with fun tasks such as sorting out their toy/video box in the morning and having a friend over in the afternoon.

Too much activity
Holiday or family events that include many visitors and lots of activities can be too exciting, leaving children feeling unsettled and out of sorts. To help them, make up a calendar of the weeks around an upcoming holiday or family event. Let them help write or draw in the days when family or friends are coming and when other special activities are happening. Be sure to plan spaces between the exciting days for recovery time. Also, help children find a space in the house to be alone when they get tired or just want some time to themselves.

Present-mania is often a problem during the holidays and other celebrations. Children, especially young ones, can get over-excited thinking about all the gifts they might get. Children under four years of age are self-centered and do not yet have the concepts of giving or sharing. For children this age, it is valuable to help them make gifts for others. Handprint gifts are easy and popular for giving to relatives, especially grandparents. Placemats made using the fronts of old holiday or birthday cards and clear adhesive paper are also easy. Children also learn about giving by watching their parents. Set an example by giving to others out of generosity and love during the holidays and other times of the year.

Control “wish list”
Other things you can do to limit your children’s “want” level include controlling viewing of television shows with endless toy ads. Limit trips to toy stores and the large discount stores. De-emphasize wish lists by setting a limit on the number of items a child can request for birthdays or holidays. Help kids understand that it is just a ‘wish’ list, not an ‘I-will-get-everything-on-this’ list. If a child receives too much, nothing seems important or satisfying.

Sometimes children away from home for a holiday or vacation will miss a relative or pet left behind. Missing an absent parent can be especially unsettling to children. Discuss with them who will and will not be at upcoming events. Let them know it is ok to feel sad when they miss someone. Encourage children to talk about their feelings and disappointments. Allow them to cry if they need to. Suggest sending a card to that special someone (including pets), even if they have already gone to heaven.

For children, holidays and family events are what parents make them. Do what you can to keep your children’s stress level down and help them stay happy during busy times of the year. One way to do this is to monitor your own stress level and try to maintain an inner peace.

Build own sense of calm
This may seem overly simplistic, but doing the things that build your own sense of calm can help combat the stress that comes with holidays and other busy times of year. Peace is an inner state of alert calmness and vibrant tranquility. It is harmony with people and one’s environment. True peace is the ability to accept, with composure, whatever challenges come our way. Inner peace carries with it a quiet feeling of power and energy. It is not at all like passivity or laziness.

  • Look at what makes you feel peaceful – being with a good friend, listening to uplifting music, praying, meditating and so on. Whatever it is, bring more of it into your life.
  • If you are rushing all the time, build more free space into your life. Kindly say no. Keep life simple. Let go of non-essentials. Do less and enjoy it more.
  • Ease the way for others. Scatter kindness. Lend a helping hand. Spread cheerfulness.
  • If possible, spend time in nature. Even brief moments can make a big difference.
  • Spend no time worrying about the past or the future. Live fully in the here and now.

Sometimes a lack of peace is an inner call for forgiveness, a change in lifestyle or the healing of a relationship. Listen carefully and respectfully to the whisperings of your heart. Do what you can to make holidays and other family events meaningful and joyful for yourself and your children.

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