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12/13/22 blog post

How to keep the stress away during holiday trips

4 ways to manage stressful holiday visits

In this article 

If your idea of a perfect holiday season includes a list of cheerful parties, nostalgic visits to family members' homes or a festive road trip, then you may be dreading the tension and tantrums that can seem to cloud the celebrations. 

Your children are not acting "naughty" to ruin the holiday fun, they simply may be overstimulated, feeling pressure to be perfect or caught off guard from all of the schedule changes! 

The holiday season shouldn’t be about stress. So here are four ways to prepare for your holiday visits and keep up the attitude of gratitude while enjoying all of the fun festivities with family and friends. 

  1. Prepare ahead of time  

The anxiety of the unknown may affect your child’s mental wellness and cause some unwanted behaviors to start. These distractions can take away from the joy of the season and the opportunity to connect. But you can help by painting a picture of what the holiday and its activities will look like ahead of time. Consider sharing with your kids: 

  • What the house you’re visiting will look like inside and whether it will be very noisy or quiet.  
  • If there will be animals at the house, what kind are they and can they be pet or played with?  
  • What the day’s schedule will look like including when you’ll eat and when you’ll be opening gifts. 
  • Who the children will see at the event. Will there be other children, people that they know or strangers there? If some of the people who are visiting haven’t been seen a while, share a few pictures with your kids and give some details about who they are. 
  • How long you’ll be visiting this house and if there is more than one stop planned for the day.  
  1. Set expectations and establish rules 

You’re not being a grinch by setting expectations and establishing rules! Providing structure can help reduce anxiety and manage stressors for children. If you simply give a broad expectation like “I expect you to be good” that doesn't help your child know where the boundaries are to allow them to let loose and enjoy themselves. Instead, get specific about rules like:  

  • Whether or not shoes need to be taken off when inside the house. 
  • Where and how long video games can be played or screen time can be enjoyed. 
  • What areas of the house running, playing and climbing are (or are not) allowed.  
  • If there are babies, toddlers or even pets that your child is not used to being around how should they be played with? Can they be touched, or should they be left alone?  

remember: If the rules of this home are different, it is important to have a discussion about being respectful of other parents’ rules. Remind your children that they are expected to follow the rules of the house where you are visiting.  

  1. Show your support  

It’s important during this overwhelming and confusing time that your child knows that they can count on you to have their back. Children don’t have as much freedom to make decisions or express their thoughts and feelings. So having you support them will help them feel safe as they navigate the unfamiliar. You can show your support by:  

  • Considering bringing toys or activities just in case there aren’t toys to play with where you’re visiting. Make sure that these are toys you know your child won’t mind sharing with others in a group setting or accidentally leaving if that happens.  
  • Supporting your child in the decision to not hug or touch family members if they’re not comfortable with that. Encourage the family member to give a high five or fist bump instead.  
  • Practicing how to answer small talk questions like, “how’s school,” or “what have you been up to?” to help your child feel more confident and less anxious about these intimidating interactions.  
  1. Encourage gratitude 

Children who are grateful and kind will be happier and healthier mentally. But during the holiday season that’s focused on material items and gifts, it can become harder to reinforce these attitudes. Here’s how to handle those dreaded moments when it comes to receiving gifts this season: 

  • If there are no presents: Let your children know up front that there won’t be any presents exchanged at this home. Take some time to discuss with them that the reason for the holidays is spending time and connecting with loved ones, instead of material items and gifts.  
  • If presents are being exchanged: Before the event, you can role-play with your child how they may handle getting a gift that they may already have or may not like. Take some time to remind them that gift gift-giving is about thoughtfulness and care, not the present itself. Also, practice saying thank you and showing gratitude. Remind them to take time to open their gift and look the gift giver in the eye to say thank you and show appreciation  

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Emily Weitz, BSW, LSW

Community Behavioral Health Outreach Specialist
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