Tips On How To Reduce Holiday Stress For Your Kids

The holiday season is a time of joy, fun and a lot of family time. Between extended family gatherings, holiday activities, community events and family traditions it is easy to quickly become overwhelmed. What is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year often becomes stressful and this stress is felt by your children as well.  In a national poll completed by Children’s Health at University of Michigan Health one in five parents felt their child had unrealistic expectations for the holiday season. One in four parents felt they set too high of expectations of themselves. Thankfully, with a few simple tweaks to your holiday season, you can decrease this stress. Here are some tips on how to reduce holiday stress for your children (and yourself!) and bring the joy back into the holiday season for both you and your kids. 

3 children hanging christmas ornaments

Get Physical Activity & Fresh Air

Physical activity is hard to come by in the winter months, it’s cold and often snowy (at least it is here in Minnesota!). However, there are many studies to show the positive impact of physical activity and decreased stress level/anxiety (thanks to endorphins 🙂). So bundle up and try to plan in some outdoor walks throughout the holiday season.

Create scavenger hunts for your kids, or plan a path through a neighborhood with great Christmas lights. If you live where there is snow try tubing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, or sledding!

You will immediately notice a positive difference in your children by implementing this physical activity in your day. If you have to travel for the holidays don’t forget to build in stops to allow kids stretch and run for a bit! (You may also like my post on tips for road trips with kids and my favorite road trip activities & games). 

toddler on sled going down hill with dad watching at top of hill

Set Realistic Expectations

It is hard to compete with the Hallmark Christmas movies and never ending toy commercials directed at your children. It is important to set realistic expectations for your kids and yourself. If I tried to get to all of my town’s holiday celebrations or bake every Christmas treat I have on my Pinterest board I would be a grump, plain and simple. 

For your kids, let them know what to expect. For example, for Christmas we have chosen to have a set a limit of presents for each child. In our house Santa always brings 3 presents for each child (representative of the 3 Wise Men). One is a book, the other a piece of clothing and the last is a toy that is usually under 20$.  It is never an issue because my kids know that this is how it is every year. If you are able to set the stage for your child before an event or celebration it will go so much better, I promise. 

Grandma hanging ornaments with grandson

Be Intentional With What Goes On The Calendar

We put so much pressure on ourselves to make things perfect for our kids and our to-do lists are never ending. This pressure seems to be a million times more during the busy holiday season. But realistically, our kids just want to spend time with us.

It’s okay to say no to certain holiday traditions that bring more stress to your family than joy. Sit down as a family with a list you have already put together of activities that can be done over the holiday season. Have your kids help pick their top activities to help guide your holiday calendar.

Try not to over plan or overbook yourself. Remember, you don’t have to go big, expensive, or extravagant to make this season special. Just be present, your kids would much rather have a present parent versus a stressed parent.

child being pulled on sled by her father in winter

Take Quiet Time To Recharge

Find what works for you to recharge and schedule it into your day. Give yourself time to just be. Find a quiet place to take a nap. Step away and take deep breaths. Listen to a podcast. Go for a walk. Honestly, do whatever fills your cup so that you can be present for those little ones at home that love you dearly. 

It’s important to allow your kids time to recharge as well. If you have a child who is easily overwhelmed during family gatherings it may be helpful to find a quiet room or quiet corner for them to find some calm. It is so easy to experience sensory overload during the holiday season.

Finding things to help kids recharge prior to social gatherings or the holiday season is so helpful. I work with many families who have children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and know this season can be particularly stressful for these families. If this is the case for your family, Performance Health has some really great tips and recommendations on how to approach the holidays to make it magical and less stressful for the whole family.

Try To Stick With Your Daily Routine

Easier said than done, huh? Often kids are off of school on holiday break, completely out of their normal day to day routine. The time at home is wonderful, but sometimes it is really hard for kids to be out of routine for days on end.  If at all possible try to keep a routine for your kids especially around nap time, meal time and bedtime. Our family always tries to stick with our bedtime routine no matter where we are at. Sometimes there are late nights or events past bedtime, but we try to prioritize getting our kids to bed on time.

If you are traveling it is helpful to bring a bit of home with you like a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Young children (and honestly older children too) do best with routines and predictability. You will not regret trying to prioritize this during your holiday season.

3 boys sitting on bench with santa hats on looking at santa

Offer Healthy Snacks

Healthy eating and holiday celebrations are really polar opposites, at least for the celebrations our family attends.  It’s fun to have the holiday cookie or special holiday dessert, but too many days of this and you will notice your kids’ behavior start to decline. I highly recommend packing some go-to healthy snacks for your kids when you travel. If you are traveling over a meal time instead of getting fast food perhaps pack a healthy lunch for your child.  These are easy ways to try to balance the sugar intake that occurs over the holidays. 

Give Lots Of Grace

It is inevitable that your child will get overwhelmed, eat too much sugar or have an event that keeps them up past bedtime this holiday season. When that happens give a lot of grace. Know that if your child melts down it is okay, the mom next to you likely experienced that the day before. When kids are stressed or over tired they will often act out either emotionally or behaviorally, this is incredibly normal. The goal is to reduce this as much as possible, but know when it happens it’s okay. I always tell myself on rough days that we get to start fresh tomorrow. Give yourself grace, give your child grace.

Child laying on dog in christmas PJs

There is so much excitement built up around the holiday season. As you sit down with your family to discuss what fills your cup this season you will naturally be able to weed out events or traditions that may add to your stress and take away from the joys of the season. In turn you will be able to prioritize holiday events that bring joy to your whole family.

I hope that this season is full of slow, sweet moments with your family. 

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