By Bonnie Glazer
As adults, we know that when the holidays roll in, stress often does as well. Although it is often called “the most wonderful time of the year,” it may be, for some, a time of anxiety and distress.
Most of us embrace the belief that kids love the holidays and that they are filled with joyful anticipation.
Sadly, this is not always the case. Adults can make things easier for children by being alert to the possibility that a particular child may be having a hard time. The very things we treasure about holidays – a break in routine, travel, reuniting with seldom-seen friends and relatives – can wreak havoc on the world of a child, particularly for an anxious child. And if a child or adolescent has a psychiatric disorder like depression, an anxiety disorder or ADHD, the holidays can be even more difficult. If left unaddressed, these holiday stresses can seriously undermine the pleasure the whole family takes in celebrating.
The Child Mind Institute suggests the following:
Empathy is a key part of the equation for helping a child through the season. Think about it: If you had social anxiety issues, would you like to be thrust into a gathering of near-strangers and expected to have a good time? Kids with social anxiety shouldn’t be shielded from the events that trigger their anxiety – they need to learn to manage their fears, but this is best done in controlled doses.
A sense of not being in control can also be a significant stress for kids. As much as possible, include children in the planning of events and trips so they feel more comfortable and in charge. By the same token, it’s very important to maintain routines as much as possible going into the disruptive season. This extends to family holiday traditions, which can anchor kids in the swirl of events – particularly if they feel a sense of ownership.
Of course, some things are beyond our control. One of the best ways to help your child handle holiday stress is to handle it well yourself. Modeling effective coping encourages good behavior and healthy attitudes in young people, and is particularly important in children who react poorly to common life stresses, or have a psychiatric disorder. Parents seem to realize this, but too often aren’t careful enough in the behaviors they show their kids.
Finally, and most importantly, make sure that if your child does have a psychiatric disorder, he or she is getting the best care available, because treatment works – and stress mixed with untreated mental illness may make children especially vulnerable.
This holiday season, everyone will feel better if you make sure your child has whatever help he or she needs, a realistic role in whatever celebrations you and your family enjoy and parents who aren’t stretched to the breaking point.
Don’t give the unwanted gift of holiday stress.
Bonnie Glazer is the CEO of Child & Adolescent Treatment Services.