Holiday Season May Cause Parental Stress

The holiday season is here!  People are rushing to finish shopping, cooking, cleaning and decorating.  Our calendars are full of social events, and sometimes we try to do too much.  A poll in a recent issue of Parenting Magazine found that “more than a quarter of the population views Christmas and Hanukkah as stressful.”  Over-extending ourselves causes stress, and stress can increase the risk that we will abuse our children.

            When holiday stress is added to everyday stress, it’s easy to take it out on your kids.  Abuse takes many forms, and its effects can last a lifetime.  Harsh physical punishment, constant criticism and belittling, neglecting children’s basic needs, even isolated incidences of rejection or humiliation can damage a child.  Keep in mind that holiday excitement can be stressful for kids as well as parents.  

             Put the following “Holiday Stress Prevention Tips” into action to make the holiday season more enjoyable for the entire family.

·        KEEP KIDS ON SCHEDULE: Meals, naps, and bedtime should occur at approximately the same time each day.  Well-fed and rested children are more pleasant and cooperative than hungry, tired kids.  Schedule shopping trips and outings for the time of day that you and your children feel the most energetic.  Bring snacks to eat while you’re away from home, as well as a bag of tricks -- include coloring books, storybooks, playdough, puzzles, and their favorite videotape.

·        INVOLVE YOUR CHILD IN HOLIDAY PREPARATIONS: Encourage your children to help with shopping, baking, and gift-wrapping.  At the store, discuss colors and shapes, or play guessing games.  Let your kids pour and stir ingredients for cookies, make holiday cards, and put bows on presents.  Kids feel important when adults encourage them to help.  As kids help with holiday activities, they learn how to carry on family traditions.

·        RESIST FEELING GUILTY: The holiday season is a difficult time financially for many parents.  Parents have to keep up with monthly bills and buy holiday gifts.  Try not to feel guilty if you are unable to meet the commercial demands of the holidays.  Spending beyond your means will only increase stress when the credit card bills come in, so keep in mind that great gifts don’t have to be expensive.  Take advantage of free events like the school pageant or church holiday party.  

·        SHARE YOURSELF WITH YOUR KIDS: You may not be able to give your kids all the material things they want, but you can give of yourself.  Plan a special activity for just you and your children.  Go on an indoor picnic.  Make cookies or paper ornaments.  If you have more than one child, set aside a special time to spend with each one. 

·        SET RULES AND STICK TO THEM: Discuss rules with your children and seek their input.  Keep rules simple and few in number, and post them in a prominent place (like the refrigerator).  Share with children the positive consequences for following rules and the negative consequences for breaking them.  Be consistent in applying your rules for acceptable behavior.  Children, like adults, respond best to praise, positive reinforcement, and rewards.  Rewards may be tangible (stickers, trip to a restaurant) or intangible (extra playtime). 

·        PREPARING FOR NEW EXPERIENCES: The holidays are a time of fun events and new experiences.  Children may feel stress during new activities and may express their fears through anger or misbehavior.  Talk with your children beforehand about visiting Santa, attending a party, relatives coming to visit, or participating in the school play.  Ask them how they feel about different activities, and answer any questions they have.

·        REINFORCE GOOD BEHAVIOR: Praise encourages healthy self-esteem.  Children need praise to learn appropriate behavior, so “catch” your children being good as often as possible. Reward good behavior by giving special privileges such as having a friend over for a play date. Give verbal praise, hugs, and lots of kisses.  You can also give material rewards like stickers, gum, and toys to reinforce good behavior.

·        KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR CHILD: Learn about child development--what children are typically capable of at each stage of growth--so that your expectations for behavior are suitable.  Unrealistic expectations cause stress for both you and your children and may damage your relationship.  Read books on parenting and child development, talk to other parents and your doctor, and take a parenting class.  It’s comforting to know that other parents experience similar difficulties with potty training, teaching the concept of sharing, dealing with teenage mood swings, and many other aspects of child-rearing.

·        WHEN YOU FEEL STRESSED, TAKE TIME OUT: Put the child in a safe place such as the crib, playpen, or a childproof room.  Count to ten.  Take deep breaths.  Think about the causes of your anger.  Direct your anger at something other than your child.  You can hit a pillow, take a shower, exercise, or call a friend.  Ask a neighbor or relative to baby-sit.

·        TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF: Pay attention to your own needs.  Everyone functions better with adequate sleep, food, and recreation.  Take the time to do something just for you: take a walk or a nap, listen to music, get a massage, take a class, or join a gym. 

Call Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina if you need to talk about holiday stress, would like FREE parenting information, are concerned about a child, or would like to get involved in child abuse prevention in your community. 1-800-354-KIDS.

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