Children, as well as adults, are likely to feel stress during Christmas, and before the holiday happens. Kids may exhibit stress during Christmas by acting out, seeming worried, or simply by being very hyper. Other children may show signs of stress during Christmas by being more accident prone, or by regressing in maturity. A potty-trained child, for example, might start having accidents around the Christmas season.
While the ideal picture of Christmas is one of happiness, peace and joy, parents often find that Christmas is not peaceful, and kids don’t seem particularly happy or joyful because of stress. Minimizing stress during Christmas may help produce a more peaceful Christmas for both children and their caregivers.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) shares several tips for minimizing stress during Christmas. They recommend not making promises one can’t keep, like promising an absent parent will be home for the holidays when this is unsure. The APA also suggests letting children participate in planning for the holidays. This gives children some control on how the holiday will differ from regular days, and can reduce uncertainty.
The APA stresses that children should maintain a regular bedtime as much as possible, and that watching TV or playing video games, especially alone, should be minimal. Giving children opportunities for physical activity is extremely helpful in minimizing stress during Christmas, as a more hyper mindset can often be calmed down by physical exertion.
The APA also recommends that parents do not overcompensate for deficiencies by guiltily purchasing extra gifts. For example, children going through a divorce, or who have lost a parent do not experience less stress during Christmas by getting a few extra presents. Instead, children need the remaining caregiver's presence and attention.
If a parent is absent, try to keep up family traditions. Children often worry that an absent parent means an end to Christmas as they know it. Maintaining some traditions is helpful in keeping Christmas continuity, and helping children realize that some things have not changed.
The guidelines of the APA are excellent, but a few more things could be added to help minimize stress during the holidays. One of the biggest is helping children continue to eat healthily. While the occasional treat is fine, it should still remain occasional. A child who continues to eat properly as the holidays approach is likely to have less stress during Christmas.
Further, if children believe in Santa, it is extremely unfair to induce anxiety in a child by using Santa as a threat. Don’t tell children that Santa won’t come if they’re naughty, unless one really means it. Children can actually suffer quite a bit from thinking they may not get any presents if they did act out, provoked by stress during Christmas.
Lastly, for children who exhibit stress during Christmas Eve, and can’t sleep, it may be helpful not to spend a lot of time “counting the days” until Christmas. As Christmas day approaches, anxiety and stress may intensify, effecting eating, and sleeping. For some families, it makes more sense to give presents on Christmas Eve so children and parents can get sleep that night in preparation for the next day’s plans. If a child is very sincerely stressed about Santa and Christmas day, it can help to adapt traditions to the child’s needs.