The holidays tend to bring on varying degrees of stress for parents every year. Many factors contribute to these stressors including diminished routines and schedules, increased travel, stretched finances and pressure to attend countless holiday events.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the holidays are likely to look very different this year, with additional stressors and, for kids and parents alike, feelings of sadness and disappointment. Below are ideas that primary care providers can share with parents on how they can cope with holiday stress this season:
- Talk about it. When kids and teens feel like the adults in their life understand what they are going through and can empathize with how they are feeling, it can provide them a sense of relief. Youth also benefit from hearing that their parents may be experiencing similar thoughts and feelings, so parents should feel empowered to model healthy expression of their own disappointment.
- Example: “It sounds like you’re feeling really sad that we won’t be able to spend the holidays with grandma and grandpa this year. I’m sad about it too. I know it’s something we all look forward to every year.”
- Focus on what they can control. Rather than focusing energy on all the things families can’t control (e.g., the pandemic, travel restrictions, etc.), they can try shifting their focus to what they can control (e.g., what holiday traditions they can do from home).
- Example: Families can prioritize those traditions that are most meaningful and bring loved ones together. For example, families can put holiday decorations up in the home or make a holiday meal or cookies together. They may consider cueing up a video call with extended family with whom they can’t celebrate with in person and engage in traditions “together” through a virtual format.
- Create new traditions. Families can get creative. Although there may be traditions they can’t engage in this year, it is also an opportunity to create new traditions. Parents can ask their kids what they enjoy most about the holidays and see if there is a way they can still make these experiences happen in a creative way.
- Example: Family members can send each other care packages. They can host a virtual holiday movie marathon. They can identify a way each household can give back to the community during the holiday season.
- Keep a schedule. Maintaining a consistent schedule is already challenging during the pandemic, and the holidays are likely to increase that challenge. While it is reasonable to relax the family’s schedule a bit, they should be sure to maintain some regularity and expectations with regards to mealtime, sleep schedules and access to screens. Kids do best with structure.
- Example: Families can prioritize eating at least one meal together each day. Parents should ensure that there are healthy meal options and snacks available. It’s important to maintain a regular bedtime and waketime. Parents should also limit the total number of hours kids can access screens and prioritize screen time that connects them with their loved ones.
- Scale back. While it’s easy for families to focus on all the things they can’t do this holiday season, it’s important to remember that many of the typical stressors associated with the holidays won’t be an issue this year (e.g., travel, holiday parties). Families can consider this year an opportunity to scale back and take it easy. They may find this allows them to be more present and enjoy their time with loved ones.
- Example: Families can identify the parts of the holidays that are most meaningful to them. For example, if they really enjoy going caroling around the neighborhood, they can think creatively about ways that they could still have this experience but in a way that allows everyone to stay safe (e.g., a virtual caroling hour that all the neighbors can join).