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Kids Find Holidays Stressful, Too: 5 Ways to Help Them Chill Out

Upset little boy crying in front of a Christmas tree.
Kryzhov/Shutterstock

The holidays can be a challenging time for everyone, kids included! Here are five effective ways to help your kids (and you!) have less tears and more laughter and calm this holiday season.

The stress of traveling, disrupted schedules, new foods, and the overstimulation of presents can often push kids over the edge. It’s important to assess your expectations, focusing on helping your children navigate the chaos.

Don’t forget, your own stress plays a big part in it all. So take some deep breaths and find your inner calm.

Stick to a Routine

The chaos of the holidays throws everything out of whack, making it hard to maintain a regular routine. This is especially true if you’re traveling away from home, adding in the stress of sleeping in new places, eating different foods, and being around extra people.

However, it’s important to implement as much of your child’s routine as possible. Kids thrive on routine, so letting everything go completely will only add to their inner stress.

For example, if your child normally has a nap or “quiet time,” make a point of including this in their day. It might be hard, especially if they’re sleeping in a new space. But stick with it the best you can.

Bedtime is another challenging area, especially if fun (and older) cousins are around. Getting enough sleep will go a long way in helping your child deal with the extra stress of the holidays. So set aside time to create a solid bedtime routine, with some holiday-themed books.

Balance the Activities

The holidays present tons of opportunities for stimulating fun: Christmas tree shopping, sledding, ice skating, the list goes on and on. Try to limit these activities to one per day, otherwise you run the risk of overstimulating and exhausting your kids.

Even though your kids might be begging for more, more, more, it’s important to include some down time every day—for everyone’s sanity.

Just because there are dozens of activities you could pack into your holiday season, doesn’t mean you should pack them all in.

You can come up with a list of DIY crafts, such as making an advent calendar. Story time is another calming activity, something the entire family can join in on (even Grandma and Grandpa).

And don’t forget about movie night—a perfect opportunity to slow down. Pair it with some homemade hot cocoa (we love this recipe, which uses the Instant Pot).

Communicate

Talk to your kids before the holidays begin, explaining how things will be different, and what you expect of them. Try to set age-appropriate expectations—such as older kids helping out with chores, and younger kids going to bed early.

Once the holiday festivities are underway, set aside time each day to check in. You can even keep a family journal, taking turns writing about the highlights of that day. Don’t forget to jot down the troublesome parts too, as it’ll help you learn what to do better for next year!

Above all else, be prepared for meltdowns. The holidays are tough on everyone, so don’t think your kids are invincible to the stress. Offer hugs and comfort when a tantrum or meltdown begins, then talk about what they’re feeling and what you can do to make it easier for them. Sometimes kids don’t know what they need, and that’s okay, too. Just try your best to be present, reassuring them that life will return back to normal soon enough.

Focus on Snacks and Meals

If traveling away from home, make sure to pack your child’s favorite snacks and comfort food. Sometimes you can’t find their usual snacks at an out-of-state grocery store, so make space in your luggage to bring along a few key items.

Unless you’re one of Santa’s elves, candy is not a food group. Keep healthy snacks on hand to avoid blood sugar crashes and temper tantrums.

Try to keep up with regular, balanced meals. Sometimes the day slips by and you realize your child has only eaten Santa cookies and chocolate candies from Grandma’s candy bowl! Plenty of meltdowns happen from skipping a meal.

Avoid pushing new foods on your kids during this time. Save that for when you’re home or when your schedule isn’t completely haywire. If your child wants mac-n-cheese at the Christmas dinner, that’s okay.

Find Your Inner Calm

As parents, we often put our own needs last. But our children look to us to help navigate their own intense feelings. So lead by example, showing them how to process complex feelings in a healthy way.

You can start your day with a calming meditation app or a relaxing yoga video. You can even do a fun holiday-themed yoga workout with the kids!

Spend time outside, too. Being out in nature helps calm the nervous system. Going for a nature walk (even in the snow) is a peaceful and fun family activity.

Regularly check in with your expectations. Sometimes we want to have a perfect family Christmas, but setting the standard too high can lead to disappointment, or put too much pressure on our family members. Try to roll with the unexpected, laughing at whatever misfortunes are thrown your way. So what if the bread rolls get burnt? Make some buttery toast instead.


Don’t let the chaos of the holidays stress your kids out. Take some time to connect, be with nature, and stick to the routine as much as possible. And don’t be afraid of the tears and meltdowns—it’s just a natural expression of the extra stress. Let your kids express it, then find a calming activity to engage in together.

Jill Chafin Jill Chafin
Jill Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »

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