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Preventing Holiday Stress for Parents & Children, 10 Tips

Happy multigeneration family enjoying while gathering for Thanksgiving in dining room.

The Holiday season is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, filled with joy, laughter, and cherished moments. But for many parents and children, it can quickly become a source of stress and anxiety. From the pressure of holiday preparations to the financial strain of gift-giving, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But fear not! With a little planning and a dash of creativity, you can prevent holiday stress and make this season truly magical for your family.

Here are 10 tips on how to prevent holiday stress for both parents and kids:

1. Set Realistic Expectations

One of the main stressors that comes with the holidays is the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves. We often try to capture the magic we see in Hallmark movies, but life is messy and not carefully scripted. Surprise visits from out-of-town relatives, burnt recipes, gift-wrapping woes, and random car trouble can derail that perfect holiday picture. Remember, it’s okay if everything doesn’t go according to plan. Embrace the imperfections and focus on creating happy memories

2. Plan Early

Leaving things to the last minute is a major cause of stress during the holidays. That’s why it’s important to plan early—weeks early. Make lists, set a budget, and create a timeline for your shopping, decorating, and cooking. Of course, not everything can be planned for, but limiting stress is much easier with careful planning. Be sure to include downtime in your schedule and make your older children a part of the preparation process as well. That way, you’ll have more time to enjoy the season together.

3. Stick to a Budget

Money, or lack thereof, can create a lot of stress and tension for the whole family. It doesn’t help that most Americans overspend during the holidays. It’s hard not to. Set a realistic budget for gift-giving, decorations, and family outings. You can involve your kids in the budgeting process and let the experience help them learn about financial responsibility and the importance of thoughtful giving over extravagant spending. Setting and sticking to a budget will help reduce stress both during and after the holidays.

4. Delegate and Share Responsibilities

As a parent, you may feel the need to shoulder the bulk of holiday preparations. You don’t need to be Santa’s sole helper—let your partner and children help as well, even if the results are less than perfect. Early elementary kids can help with cooking, decorating, and wrapping gifts. Not only will this lighten your load but it’ll create cherished memories too. Teens can help with holiday cards, errand running, shopping, and more.

5. Revise Traditions

Traditions like family parties, white elephant gifting, or holiday pageants can create lasting memories, but when traditions start to feel more like obligations, consider simplifying them or skipping them altogether. There’s no need to cater to stress-inducing traditions. What may have worked for your family years ago may not work now. Instead, focus on those traditions that can fit into your family’s lifestyle and bring you all joy. As for the rest, let them go or revise them.

6. Plan for the Unplanned

One of the biggest stressors around the holidays is the surprises. A coworker gives you a gift and you have nothing with which to reciprocate. Your child announces they’re having a class party, and your family is responsible for the treats. While you can’t predict every emergency, you can prevent a lot of stress by pre-preparing three things:

  • Have a few generic, wrapped gifts ready to go for adults and kids. A book, an art kit, or a treat all work well here.
  • Cook ahead and have at least one healthy family meal (plus a few frozen pizzas) in your freezer. This will save a lot of money on takeout as the holiday craziness gathers steam.
  • Don’t wait for your kids to tell you about performances and class parties. Email their teachers and coaches early to inquire about times, dates, and expectations.

7. Make Time for Yourself

Of course, you want to spend time with your family and loved ones but don’t forget about caring for yourself. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, pre-scheduled time for yourself is a great way to recharge and detox from the stress. Take a quiet, candle-lit bubble bath, read a few chapters from a good book, work out, or get a pedicure. Do whatever it takes to get you to that place, there is no time requirement for this. When you’re in a good place mentally and physically, you’re better equipped to take care of your family.

8. Limit the Sugar

The holiday season is prime time for food temptations and it’s okay to have some treats. But try to avoid letting too many of those treats take up residence in your house. Excess sugar and stress are a recipe for crankiness, weight gain, and mood swings. Continue to eat balanced meals, exercise regularly and save the holiday treats for specific activities like holiday parties.

9. Seek to Serve

Teach your children the value of helping those in need. Look for opportunities to volunteer, donate, cook a meal for your neighbors, or help others shovel their driveway. These simple acts of kindness are incredibly rewarding and reduce our stress. Planning a service project together is a great family tradition that can create memories without the stress of dressing up or spending a lot of money.

10. Remember What the Season is All About

Remember what the spirit of the season is all about. We’re surrounded by commercial messages, so it may be worthwhile to take a break from social media and mainstream media for a few weeks. Encourage your children to express their gratitude by modeling that same behavior. Instead of stressing about making the moment perfect or capturing it with your phone, just enjoy the moment. Spend quality time with those you love and those that make you happy. That’s the key to a less stressful holiday.

The holiday season doesn’t have to be a chaotic whirlwind for parents and children. By setting realistic expectations, blocking time for yourself, and focusing on what matters most, you can create a lower-stress home for the holidays.

Johnathon Peterson, ACMHC

Johnathon Peterson, ACMHC

Johnathon is a therapist in our South Jordan Counseling office.

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