The most wonderful time of the year can also be the most stressful.
Children can get stressed during holidays, but their anxiety may present differently than adults, according to experts.
“In the same way that adults can be happy and stressed out at the same moment during the holidays, children, too, have mixed emotions,” Dr. Lama Bazzi, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City, told Fox News Digital.
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During the holidays, children are often exposed to caretakers who are stressed by their finances, reminded of the loss of loved ones or overwhelmed with too many commitments, said Schenike Massie-Lambert, Ph.D, according to a press release.
She’s the program coordinator of the Rutgers Children’s Center for Resilience and Trauma Recovery at University Behavioral Health Care in New Jersey.
“Holidays can be perceived as more stressful because of the social demand for increased interpersonal interactions as well as the need to exchange gifts and spend beyond normal boundaries,” Dr. Christopher L. Edwards, psychologist and adjunct professor at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina, told Fox News Digital.
Children often get into a routine during the school year, so they become sensitive when this routine is disrupted — which can lead to changes in mood and behavior.
Experts offer some important tips on how to decrease the stress for kids during the holidays — and make this time period as enjoyable as possible for all.
Prepare for disrupted routines
Children often get into a routine during the school year, so they become sensitive when it gets disrupted — which can lead to changes in mood and behavior.
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“It is important to prepare your children ahead of time and to explain how the schedule will change, remind them who will be staying in which room, remind them that you’ll be eating later but that snacks will be on hand — and so on,” Bazzi added.
“This allows children to acclimate to the idea of change. By the time the holiday is upon you, they will be more or less know what to expect.”
Avoid overscheduling kids, said Massie-Lambert — parents must know when to say “no.”
Be a good role model on self-care
Adults who are stressed out can influence their children’s emotional well-being.
“There is a process of social learning whereby many kids learn and adopt from their parents an increased perception of stress and the skills for coping,” Edwards noted.
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So what should caregivers do when they’re stressed?
“When [they’re] stressed, they should consider engaging in self-care that is restorative — physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Massie-Lambert told Fox News Digital.
“Caregivers are also encourage[d] to engage in self-care that they have autonomy over,” she added.
“If their self-care regimen requires a babysitter or a heavy financial commitment, it will not always be readily accessible to them.”
Watch the finances, as well as social interactions
The holidays often add stress because of the financial pressure of gift-giving.
“Parents can assist their children in better coping during the holidays by modeling financial restraint and spending within a pre-set budget,” Edwards noted.
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The season of giving may also increase stress by the pressures of more social interactions.
Caregivers should also show children they are taking time for their own wellness and involve them in stress-relieving activities, “like walking, listening to music or journaling.”
Edwards suggests that it’s wise to “even limit interpersonal interactions to those [who] are easily manageable and those who meet [caregivers’] needs for contact.”
Caregivers should also show children they are taking time for their own wellness and involve them in stress-relieving activities, “like going for a walk, listening to music or journaling,” Massie-Lambert also said, according to the release.
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Although it may be tempting to allow children to use electronics more than usual during the season, she also encourages parents to make sure their children remain physically active, as this is “also a great tool for managing stress and releasing tension in the body,” as noted in the release.
Know that physical complaints may have an emotional component
During this time, children may reveal physical complaints that are unrelated to a medical condition.
“It is common for children who are experiencing stress to report things like stomach aches, back pain or headaches,” Massie-Lambert said in the press release.
“If they ask questions repeatedly, that is a clue they may be anxious — and because children process through repetition, answering them every time is important,” Bazzi told Fox News Digital.
Caregivers should ask their kids about their stress levels if they notice sudden changes in sleep, changes in eating habits and changes in mood or social interactions — and involve a professional, if needed.
“When your children’s stress begins to negatively impact their ability to function in multiple areas of life, additional attention is warranted,” Massie-Lambert told Fox News Digital.
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“We generally say that if it impacts their ability to live, laugh, learn and love, then a conversation with a professional would be helpful.”
Learn how to talk about stress
Many children may not be at the developmental stage in which they can talk about how they’re feeling, Massie-Lambert noted in the release.
She recommends that when kids are struggling with stress, parents should talk to them about what they observe and how it may be contributing.
This lets kids know their parents care.
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“Lastly, they can openly discuss their children’s distress and provide experiential insights on how to best manage them,” Edwards added.
Then choose a coping strategy together, which will have the added benefit of increasing independence and engagement in the process, Massie-Lambert noted.
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“Finally, allow your children to socialize at will and make the entire experience a fun adventure … [This lets them know] they are an important part of [the experience] and are contributing to [it] meaningfully,” Bazzi added.