Managing Holiday Stress

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Gifts to buy, food to bake, relatives to see ... Moms are super busy come holiday season. Here are tips for keeping the season merry & holiday stress down.

For parents — and especially moms who put a lot on themselves to create the “perfect” holiday season — sometimes the holidays just mean stress! If it’s hard on Mom, it’s hard on everyone, so be sure to carve some soothing “me” time into the season.

Stressful Triggers

There are three top triggers for holiday stress, says Sharon James, program manager of the Parent Education Department at Beech Acres Parenting Center. The first is over-planning. “What’s supposed to be fun can be overwhelming and exhausting,” she says. So while you might want to hit up every holiday activity that Greater Cincinnati has to offer, it’s best to know how much fun your kids can tolerate.

A second trigger has to do with family gatherings. “There’s a reason why there are so many jokes and movies about it,” laughs James. Negotiating a roomful of personalities, scheduling visits, and dealing with ex-spouses if necessary, is exhausting. James suggests talking to family members in advance, so everyone knows what to expect.

A final trigger for stress is, of course, money, and over-spending. The bottom line, according to James, is to ask yourself what message do you want kids to learn about giving. “What do you want your kids to remember from their childhood once they are older? Is it the gifts they got, or the memories of family, fun times and the games you played?”

Keeping an Eye on Kids

As you navigate these triggers, keep in mind that your child might be navigating them, too. Toddlers especially look to parents to learn how to react to a given situation, something James calls “social referencing.” If you fall apart in the face of stress, your child learns that is the proper way to react.

It’s never safe to assume your kids aren’t paying attention to what you say. “Sometimes kids hear parents say things like, ‘What are we going to do now?’ or a figure of speech like ‘This will put us in the poor house,’” says James. Some kids take these things literally, and may spend a lot of time worrying over what you meant.

To be fair, it’s not realistic to keep everything under control all the time — comments slip out and sometimes emotions don’t stay in check.  If you get upset or argue with your spouse in front of your kids, James suggests that you take a few moments to reassure them, and let them know that even though Mommy and Daddy were upset, everything is OK.

For kids who seem to pick up on holiday stress, James has another idea: empower them by letting them make some decisions and accomplish tasks.

“Talk to kids,” she says, adding that parents can explain there’s a lot going on during the holidays and ask their kids what they would like to do. And don’t be afraid to delegate a few tasks to the kids, like wrapping gifts. Sure, the gifts may not turn out perfect, but most recipients will appreciate the homemade touch.

Thoughtful Planning

It’s all about being mindful, according to James. That may mean letting go of some activities and gifts to make room for the things you really enjoy. Whether it’s going to church on Christmas Eve or volunteering throughout the season, James suggests, “Think about how to make your family values a part of your holiday traditions.” When you incorporate what’s most important to you, rather than rushing to activities or over-spending on soon-to-be-forgotten toys, the holidays are sure to be less stressful — maybe even stress-free!

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