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Special School District of St. Louis County
10 Tips for Managing
Holiday Stress for Children

With the holiday season upon us, it’s important to take some time to prepare for the hustle and bustle that comes with this time of year.

Everyone knows the holidays can be stressful for adults, but that stress is often compounded for children. Children with special needs may find it particularly difficult to deal with the changes that occur during this time of year.

But recognizing the fact that holiday festivities can lead to stressful reactions is an important step to taking action to avoid major meltdowns. So to help parents deal with this time of year, here’s a top 10 list of things to do to help your child weather the holiday season:
  1. Try to maintain a typical routine. Having a routine and sticking to it is very important for children. It helps them to feel secure and know what to expect. With holiday festivities it may not always be possible, but keeping your children on their typical schedule as much as possible will make it easier for them to adjust.
  2. Get plenty of rest. Making sure that your children get plenty of sleep is key to helping them deal with stress. Doing your best to maintain the same sleeping patterns is also very helpful. Whenever possible, try to have your children go to bed at their typical bedtime and wake at their regular time.
  3. Plan healthy meals and snacks. The holidays can often be filled with many opportunities for young ones (and adults) to eat lots of candy and desserts. While it may not be possible to completely eliminate sweets during the holidays, it can be helpful to set a limit. Make sure to plan some healthy snacks as well to help balance things out. Good nutrition can have a major impact on whether your children are feeling their best.
  4. Choose holiday functions and parties carefully. Having too many parties to attend can add to the stress of the holiday season. You do not have to attend every event. When choosing which invitations to accept and which to respectfully decline, keep your child’s interests in mind. If your child has difficulty adjusting to new situations or doesn’t like large crowds, you may want to skip events that will be in unfamiliar places.
  5. Don’t put your children on the spot. It’s natural to want to brag about your children, but forcing them to sing for Aunt Rose or tell a story about themselves to Uncle Jim can make them overly anxious. Don’t insist they perform for relatives. This can often lead to feelings of embarrassment.
  6. Keep children informed of plans. Avoid surprising your children when there’s going to be a change in the routine. If you’re planning to attend a holiday event or have a hectic day full of holiday errands, let your children know in advance so they aren’t caught off guard. Some surprises are expected during the holidays, but for things that don’t have to be a surprise, let them know in enough time so they can be prepared as well.
  7. Incorporate quiet time as needed. If there is a particular day that is exceptionally full of holiday obligations, try to make time for your child to unwind. Set time aside so that your child can take a nap or play quietly without a lot of overstimulation. Ask you child what helps to make them feel better and try to incorporate these types of activities during stressful times. If they like to watch movies or color, plan to have these types of activities available.
  8. Avoid stressful situations. Going to the mall to do holiday shopping can be stressful for adults. That stress level is compounded for children. If possible, don’t put your children in such stressful situations. If you plan to go to the mall for some holiday shopping, see if there’s a way you can have someone watch the children. Whether that’s a family member, trusted friend or neighbor, you’ll be doing yourself and your child a favor.
  9. Maintain your own stress level. Children will follow your lead when it comes to the way they react to a situation. As soon as you start to feel stressed, your children will pick up on it and become more stressed as well. Do what you need to keep your own anxiety level in check and your children will follow suit.
  10. Keep with traditions. Holidays are meant to be times to share with family and friends. If you have family traditions that your children enjoy, be sure to keep them intact this year. This will lead to a greater sense of belonging to the family and help to keep things grounded. Feeling a strong family connection will help children not just during the holidays but throughout the year.
Published November 2018
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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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