The holiday season usually is a joyful time. Many families look forward to gathering with relatives and friends, exchanging gifts and celebrating traditions. But COVID-19 and physical distancing have brought a new kind of stress this holiday season.
There are ways families can cut down their stress during the holidays. Sticking to routines as much as possible, exercising, eating healthy food, and getting plenty of sleep can help. Pay attention to how much time your kids—and you—spend on screens. And avoid the pressure to spend a lot on gifts, focusing on the simple joy of spending time together.
Beyond “normal” holiday stress
Even if your family does not know someone who is directly affected by the virus, it may be hard for children to manage their feelings. When making plans, parents should think about how their child has handled holiday stress before.
COVID-19 is harder for some families
During a normal fall or winter, children and adults may feel lost, sad or isolated. Most times, a parent or another caring adult or friend can help a child or teen manage their stress. Your child’s stress this holiday season may depend on your family’s hardships. Think about getting extra support this year if your family is affected by the stress of:
- job loss, homelessness, not enough food, problems with remote work and learning.
- a parent or caregiver with mental health, substance use or health issues.
- frontline workers (such as a police officer, firefighter, doctor, nurse or restaurant worker).
- children with special health care needs or a mental health condition.
- racial or ethnic minority groups.
- grieving the loss of a loved one.
When to seek help
If a child is struggling for more than two weeks, it might be time to get help. Here are a few symptoms to watch for:
- An infant or young child clings to parents, has sleep problems, doesn’t eat as much, or a preschooler starts thumb sucking or bed wetting.
- An older child or adolescent acts fearful, anxious, or withdrawn, argues more or seems to be more aggressive. They also might complain more about stomachaches or headaches.
- A teen or young adult gets into trouble, can’t focus, hides problems because they are afraid, feels bad about the problems, or feels like they are a burden to their family.
Finding joy during the holiday season
Spend a few moments each day enjoying the company of your children this holiday season. It can bring your family closer and boost your mood. Try using extra downtime to do these things together as a family:
- Use your talents to help others, volunteer and give back to the community.
- Talk about your family’s culture, heritage, values and spiritual beliefs. Cook together, for example, making favorite family recipes.
- Find ways to play and laugh together. Consider making special cloth face coverings to wear during the holiday season
- Aim to be present in the moment. Teach kids to use mindfulness and relaxation to cut down on stress.
- Practice gratitude as a family.
It is perfectly fine to call your pediatrician. Get help right away if you are worried that your child might hurt themselves or someone else. Your pediatrician can help determine if any mood problems are caused by underlying health conditions or medications. They can put you in touch with psychologists, psychiatrists, or social workers.
We are all going through unprecedented times, and the holiday season will not take away how difficult that feels for a child. Instead, families can try to focus on ways to give to others. When they learn to share their time or talent with those who have less, children build resilience that will last long after the pandemic is over.
- How to Practice Gratitude & Improve Your Family’s Mental Health
- Parenting in a Pandemic: How to Keep the Calm at Home
- Mood-Boosting Tips for Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Mental Healthy During COVID-19: Signs Your Child May Need More Support
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health National Helpline
- How do I apply for food assistance?