The holiday season is one of the most wonderful times of the year…and for children with anxiety and their families, the most stressful. Amid the swirls of lights, color, sounds, laughter, parties, gifts and special events, the comfort of routines can get lost and the increased stimulus can put everyone on edge. Below are five ways, shared on the blog The Chaos and the Clutter, to help your child cope with the anxieties the holidays can bring, so you all can focus on the joy of the season:
Maintain your routine.
Kids with anxiety find great comfort in routines. While it’s inevitable that some holiday festivities will affect you usual schedule, you can still look for opportunities for consistency. Eat meals at your usual times. Keep bedtimes the same. Follow the same morning routine of brushing teeth, eating breakfast and getting dressed, even on the days your school-aged children are on holiday. Yes, your kids will grumble, but their minds and bodies will be silently grateful.
Give your children choices when you can.
While not everything is negotiable, finding opportunities to give your children choices will help them feel involved in the activity around them. Choices – big and small – will also help your anxious child feel some sense of control over what he or she experiences. For example, let your child choose what to wear to the neighbor’s holiday party, or if the family will open gifts before breakfast or after.
Often we are overwhelmed with opportunities to celebrate with friends and family or at school, church and work. Although you may be tempted to squeeze in as many get-togethers as possible, be selective. It is a good way to put your child first, knowing that if you put less on your own plate or on the family’s schedule, you will be more relaxed and more present to your kids during that time. Avoiding an overloaded schedule will help you and your child avoid the anxiety associated with hurrying to fulfill social obligations.
Stay calm with role-playing.
Thinking through scenarios your anxious child might encounter and practicing what your child might do or say will help your child feel prepared for socializing without fear. Poor social skills lead to awkwardness and increase anxiety for parents and child, but the holidays offer plenty of opportunities to excercise these skills. For example, children need to learn the delicate balance of truth and kindness and its importance, particularly in dining and gift-giving activities. Imagine with your kids if grandma serves a dish your child does not like, your child can say, “I don’t care for carrots, thank you,” instead of “Yuck!” or “I don’t want those!” Similarly, if your teenage daughter receives Minnie Mouse bubble bath that is better suited for her much younger sister, have your teenager practice saying, “You are so thoughtful, thank you!” with all sincerity. In both cases truth remains intact but feelings are spared.
Carry a little comfort.
Finally, knowing that plans can change on the fly and anxiety is not completely avoidable, consider keeping a little comfort close at hand. If your child has a treasured stuffed animal, blanket, pillow or other item, take it along with you on holiday outings. If the item is small enough, you might tuck it away in your purse or let your child take a small bag or backpack with their comfort item inside.
No matter how or when you celebrate the holidays, keep in mind that joy is the centerpiece of the season, and take the necessary steps to ensure that it doesn’t get lost in a sea of anxiety. Keeping your own stress to a minimum by working on good communication with all the members of your family and a reasonable schedule can have a great impact on your children’s anxiety. Doing so will turn happy experiences into treasured memories.
For hope and healing,
As the director of communications for Clarity Child Guidance Center, Mike shares the insights of children’s mental health experts, both inside and outside of Clarity CGC, who work with families looking for answers about their children’s mental health.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950- NAMI (6264).