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For many people, holiday season is as much of a stressor as it is a stress-reliever. The kids are home from school. There are extra expenses, extra family around, and a long to do list that probably includes things like organizing and cooking meals, sending out this year’s holiday cards, keeping your kids busy, organizing travel, and spending night after night trying to come up with hilarious ideas for that damn elf….ya’ll know who I’m talking about. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the expectations and extra tasks involved with getting through the holidays and even easier to forget that this is an opportunity for bonding and having fun with your family.
In the midst of stress, how do we ground ourselves and be present enough to enjoy the moment? It sounds simple, but the first step is really just about being mindful of what our day holds and how we are handling it. Kids need this too! Start your days off with a quick family briefing of what will happen that day. When kids know what to expect, they experience lower stress levels. Give them a quick run down of the day’s to-do list, and involve them as much as possible in deciding how it will get done….let them decide the order of the task list or which activities they would like to help with. Ask them for ideas about what to add to the family dinner menu, or challenge them to pack their suitcase quicker than you can! Not only will this make your days more manageable, but you will be getting quality time in with your children while also getting things done.
Take it from Elsa, and LET IT GO! Spend some time thinking about what your priorities are for the holidays. Is it important to you to make the holiday meal yourself, or can you delegate out the menu items to your guests so that you can spend those hours that you might have spent in the kitchen instead playing games and drinking hot cocoa with your family? Is it important to stay on a specific schedule during the holidays, or is this an opportunity for flexibility and not worrying as much about dinner, bath, and bedtime schedules? Although, for some kids, maintaining a consistent schedule and structure is very important, and a disruption to routine can create anxiety and emotional dysregulation. Stay attuned to how your kid seems to be handling changes to normal routine. Things to look for are changes in behavior, unusual difficulty managing frustration, or getting easily upset. Pay attention to your own stress levels throughout the day, and practice the “little deal, big deal” concept for yourself and with your kids: when you catch yourself in a stressful or anxious moment, stop and think about what is happening right then. Ask yourself or your kids, is this a little deal or a big deal, and then respond accordingly. Little deals are often unnecessarily treated as big deals thanks to stress. If we actually stop and assess if the bathroom stop we are making on the way to grandma’s that will make us 15 minutes late is a little deal or a big deal, I think you know what the answer will be. Then everyone can take a few deep breaths together or share a laugh about getting all worked up over going to the bathroom, and let it go!
Finally, find the fun in the holidays! This doesn’t have to cost a lot or even take a lot of effort. Create family traditions, look for community events (and take turns picking out something that each family member is interested in), volunteer together, bake something delicious as a family, spend time together each night enjoying each other and sharing with each other what you love about your family. Create a family self-care list. Each family member can suggest a few things that they would like to do together to relax…pick a favorite mindfulness activity to practice together, have a holiday-song dance party, go for a walk and look at decorations on the houses in 3 different neighborhoods, give each other massages, cuddle up and watch a holiday movie, spend 5 minutes sharing something positive that happened to each person that day; the ideas are endless, and again, it’s a way to involve your kids in creating something that will benefit your family in a multitude of ways. And while you’re at it, create your own self-care list, and pick 1 thing to do each day to keep your stress levels in check.
You can’t control everything that happens or doesn’t happen over the holidays, but you can decide to set the tone for how you and your family will experience each other and how you will handle the inevitable stress that pops up along the way. As you do this, you will also be teaching your kids valuable life skills and setting yourself up for positive, future holidays experiences as well. Good luck and happy holidays!
If you feel that you need additional assistance or tips for handling family affairs, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment or read about family and parenting counseling on our dedicated page.