I couldn’t decide what to get you for Christmas! A blender? Nah! A sack of money? I wish. No, I want to give you something way better than a sack of money.
Coming from a poor family myself, I make it a point to be extra sensitive to my own children’s feelings during the holidays. Their experience is nothing like the stress I felt around Christmas time during my childhood, as my parents dealt with bigger issues like how to keep the electricity on. But things are better for my children, and I am thankful for that.
This 573 Magazine Story is brought to you by the groovy people at WorkSPACE, co-working space in Farmington, Missouri.
All of us at the 573 Magazine hope you have a merry, stress-free Christmas and a kickin’ new year.
Thinking about all the Christmas past was when I decided it would be cool to do a story about children‘s stress levels and how to help them make it better during the holidays. Fortunately, I have a dear friend dealing with children’s issues. When I asked her to write a story, she was very excited. You see, my friend, Nina Chastain, is a highly talented and passionate counselor who deals with children‘s issues day in and day out. So what better gift than to give us a few tips about holiday stress on children and how to make it less of an issue. All of us at the 573 Magazine hope you have a merry, stress-free Christmas and a kickin’ new year.
Think back. What are your favorite childhood memories of the holidays? The meals? Tag football? Finding hidden gifts in the closet, carefully unwrapping them to peek inside, and then putting them back before you were discovered? Snowball fights with Uncle Howard?...
All too often, holiday stress hijacks our lives.
Hopefully, you have some great holiday memories. All too often, however, holiday stress hijacks our lives. Parties, expenses, out of town guests, travel, preparing food, and extra activities add demands on our time and attention that stress out even the most zen-like and organized parents.
Kids react differently to stress...tears, tantrums, or withdrawing from unpleasant situations are actually their coping mechanisms.
Kids react differently to stress than adults. They tend to show it through their behavior. It is their way of alerting you to something or letting you know that too much is happening. Their tears, tantrums, or withdrawing from unpleasant situations are actually their coping mechanisms. Some children become ill with stomachaches while others may appear nervous, show anger and demand attention. It’s how kids deal with it.
What I have learned from my counseling practice is that emotional and behavioral health – in kids and adults – comes from developing self-confidence, strong coping skills, the ability to maintain caring relationships, the ability to make positive choices, and a large dose of optimism.
...create holidays with pleasant memories, and less stress.
My clients discuss their concerns, worries and hopes for their kids. I’ve learned so much from their experiences, as well as from research and the type of therapy I practice. Here are a few things that may help create holidays with pleasant memories, and less stress.
The way you approach an issue can set the tone for how your kids will behave.
If you relax your family is more likely to relax. Set a calm example, because we all know that ‘do what I say, not what I do’ never works. Kids follow examples. Let your kids see you using positive coping mechanisms to deal with stress, such as exercising, discussing your feelings appropriately and doing special things for yourself. Your kids will pick up cues from you and use some of these strategies on their own. The way you approach an issue can set the tone for how your kids will behave.
Set up conditions for positive behavior. We are more likely to react emotionally when tired, hungry, stressed, or overstimulated. Remember – kids get hungry more often and become tired more easily. Physical exhaustion and lack of sleep can lead to increased stress and anxiety, and one of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety is - you guessed it -getting enough rest.
...it truly won’t be the end of the world.
Have a contingency plan. Pack healthy snacks to balance inevitable sugary treats, a comforting pillow, and a relaxation CD. If you have to cut a visit short or say ‘no’ to an event, it truly won’t be the end of the world.
Resist overscheduling so that you and your kids are not overwhelmed.
Remember the importance of routines. The holidays are a time when regular routines fly out the window. This can increase anxiety in kids who need structure. For others, it is like a breath of fresh air, an opportunity to recharge their batteries with chunks of unstructured time to themselves. Each child is different and it is helpful to be in tune to their needs. To minimize stress, try to get routines back on track ASAP. Resist overscheduling so that you and your kids are not overwhelmed.
Recharge yourself and the family with transition time. Plan time into the day when you all ‘chill’. Even a few minutes in a quiet place helps recharge kids and parents. Perhaps getting under the Christmas tree and gazing up though the branches at the twinkling lights and sparkling ornaments can brighten your outlook. Having some peace and solitude with your child is more important than ever during the busy holiday season. Can you find a quiet nook and read a book together, or create art?
When your child wants to talk...sometimes the best thing we can do is simply listen and validate their feelings. It isn’t always necessary to give advice.
Become a good listener. Reduce your kid’s stress by learning to be a good listener. When your child wants to talk about his or her problems, sometimes the best thing we can do is simply listen and validate their feelings. It isn’t always necessary to give advice. Remember that some level of stress is normal; let your kids know that it's OK to feel scared, angry, lonely, or anxious and that other people experience those same feelings. Your reassurance counts, so remind them that you're confident that they can handle the situation.
Fresh air and exercise are essential for lifting moods and re-charging us...All those endorphins counteract stress. Get out there!
Get out and get moving with your kids. Fresh air and exercise are essential for lifting moods and re-charging us mentally and physically. All those endorphins counteract stress. Get out there! Walk the dog and refurbish the dog house. Bird watching is easier now that the leaves are off the trees – remember to feed them. Make your own bird feeders out of pine cones, peanut butter and bird seed.
Get bigger kids to bring in the fire wood. Mud and snow are great for looking for animal tracks. Go ice skating, or if you are lucky, snowshoeing or skiing. For the ambitious, how about winter camping?
Maybe start with a winter picnic and a thermos of hot soup. Shovel an elderly neighbor’s driveway, make snow angels, build an igloo. How about a snow elephant? Make a maze in the snow or a snow cave.
You could go on a winter scavenger hunt, or a photo expedition. Don’t forget about Frisbee, hide and seek, and capture the flag. Clear winter skies are wonderful for stargazing. How nice would it be to start Christmas day with a hike in a state park, or even around the neighborhood.
Have a conversation with your kids about traditions and spirituality.
Remind your kids -- and yourself -- what the holidays are really all about. Have a conversation with your kids about traditions and spirituality. If you believe in Christ, focus on the real meaning of Christmas – and trusting God. If you have traditions or other beliefs, explain why they are important to your family.
Practicing traditions gives all of us a chance to acknowledge and appreciate the culture and community to which we belong. It fills up our internal ‘security bank’ and gives us a sense of belonging. Traditions make the stress of daily life less painful, giving us comfort and strength. “As parents, we can do a great deal to make sure that that inner bank of love and security has a healthy balance by the time they leave our care. Family traditions around holidays are one of the means we have for letting children know that they are embedded in community, for witnessing their growth over time, and for passing on important cultural and family values," according to Marie Hartwell-Walker, ED.D.
Focus on what is meaningful for your family now.
Include them in the traditions. Kids who are part of it all will know how to carry it on when it is their turn. If the traditions that you grew up with don’t fit your beliefs or needs, create new ones that do. Focus on what is meaningful for your family now.
Many parents have the skills to deal with their kid’s stress. Do seek professional help when any change in behavior persists, when stress is causing serious anxiety, or when the behavior is causing significant problems in functioning at school or at home. If you need help finding resources for your child, check with your doctor or the counselors and teachers at school.
So this year, how about less emphasis on gifts and a perfectly clean house, and more time with the people who matter? Looking ahead, which memories will matter to your kids?
GET OUT THERE!
words by n. chastain
pics by t. smugala
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