In midst of shining lights and cookies galore, the holiday season is also a time of hustle and bustle, chaos and social gatherings. It is easy to get caught up in holiday activities, such as visiting Santa, making gingerbread and shopping for presents. Throughout the holiday season, children are vulnerable to experiencing stress and anxiety, just as adults.
Dr. Kenneth Polin, a primary care pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Primary Care -Town & Country Pediatrics explains why children are prone to holiday stress and provides tips on ways to relieve stress levels.
Anxiety, fuss and emotional outbursts are some of the most common warning signs of a stressed child. Dr. Polin says that kids can start to identify stress when they realize what is happening to their body, usually around kindergarten or first grade.
“To combat children’s stress, it’s best to give them realistic expectations and support those expectations at an age-appropriate level,” he says.
One key child stress-buster is maintaining a schedule as much as possible because order and regimen will help prevent burn out and meltdowns. Dr. Polin advises having healthy communication between a parent and child, such as saying, “If you’re tired let me know.” At the same time, he recommends that parents pay close attention to their child’s mood and comfort level, as this will provide clues on whether or not a child is overwhelmed.
Implementing a healthy life-balance during this busy time of year can also reduce children’s stress. It is helpful to watch what a child eats, while encouraging active exercise, since often eating a lot of sweets can lead to upset stomach, making a child feel uneasy.
Dr. Polin suggests if a child appears to be stressed, parents can reset a child’s emotions internally by practicing relaxation techniques; which include: taking the child to a quiet corner, reading books and having mommy [or daddy] and me time.
Children also tend to feel anxious if they do not receive all the gifts that they are asking for.
“If your child knows that gifts exist, be realistic. Parents should say we love you, and Santa is concerned about you, but a lot of other kids need things too,” says Dr. Polin.
Another worry? Social interactions and family gatherings can cause a child to be apprehensive. To help children deal with large crowds, Dr. Polin encourages having a conversation with ahead of time that discusses where the gathering is and who will be there. When arriving, parents should tell their child that mommy and daddy will stay with him or her. And it is valuable to have the child integrate with other family members who are around the same age or share common interests.
“To maintain a happy and stress-free child, parents should set realistic expectations and implement a routine. Most importantly, make comments that children are aware of so they can understand and apply them accordingly,” says Dr. Polin.