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Dr. Gail Gross Headshot

How to Have a Stress-Free Family Holiday

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Mike Harrington via Getty Images
Mike Harrington via Getty Images

When you greet one another this time of year, you say things like "Happy Holidays," "Merry Christmas," and "Happy Hanukkah." Expectation has a lot to do with stress, and you are expected to be happy during the holidays. Yet for many families, the "happy" and "merry" expectations this time of year can cause great stress and anxiety -- not just for you as an adult, but for your children, too.

It is important to remember as you rush around trying to create the perfect holiday ambiance, buy the perfect holiday gifts for everyone, and create the perfect holiday meal that your children are watching. And, if you turn the holidays into a stressful production, that is how your children will view the holidays as well. Children reflect, model, and take their cues from their parents.

On the other hand this is the perfect opportunity for you as the parent to model for your children what this time is really about: bonding, togetherness, giving, and making memories.

Remember: the holidays are one of the few times in the year that the whole world conspires to love.

During this time, watch your children for typical signs of stress, which include:

  • Wetting the bed, and other forms of returning to regressive childhood.
  • Changes in eating habits.
  • Changes in grades and school behavior.
  • Crankiness, because they're too tired from rushing about from place to place.
A healthy way to move past feelings of stress, depression, and sadness is to use that energy in a positive and constructive manner. By focusing on others, you teach your children how to activate their altruistic sense of compassion and goodwill. Acting on these feelings through random acts of kindness, you and your children can reduce stress and replace it with the warm glow of satisfaction.

My quick tips for making the holidays less stressful:

  • Simplify your life: take a quite warm bath with candlelight and aromatherapy as a time out gift to yourself.
  • Take your children to volunteer at a shelter together as a family.
  • Gather old coats, blankets, food and donate them to families in need.
  • With your children, make gifts for friends and relatives with the recipients in mind. For example, if Aunt Sally likes the seashore, draw her a picture of the seashore.
  • Talk with family elders about the way in which they celebrated the holidays in their youth. Life is just a collection of your memories, children love to hear the happy and fun experiences that make up the moments of their family history.

The memories you make with your children are really what life is about, and your relationships with others are the key to those memories. By simplifying your life and managing expectations during this time of the year, you can focus on what is really important: family, community, compassion, and togetherness. The holidays don't have to be a time of great financial expenditure. Make gifts with your children that have meaning because they were created by them with thought and love for each particular family friend or family member. By taking the focus off of the hustle and bustle and the commercialism of the holidays, we help reduce the stress in our lives, and in turn, help our children learn to enjoy a stress-free holiday season that is full of meaning and memories.