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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jennifer McGinness

Keeping the Holidays Happy: Tips for Managing Holiday Stress for Kids, Caregivers, and Loved Ones

The holidays are a highly anticipated, magical, and often stressful time for kids and families. Balancing additional expenses, high expectations, and family dynamics is challenging for every family. Here are some tips and tricks to manage stress, family interactions, and the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with the holiday season.

Managing Holiday Stress

Check-in with Yourself & Your Kids

With the holidays come extra responsibilities, obligations, and commitments that disrupt a family's normal routine. These changes can make it challenging to be mindful of emotions and personal needs until family members are overwhelmed and conflict erupts. Taking a few minutes to check in with your own emotions and personal needs and encouraging kids to do the same can help families regulate big emotions and address needs before reaching a breaking point. Start by checking in with basic needs like hunger, thirst, and tiredness. Ask yourself, "have I had a full glass of water today or a balanced meal?" If the answer is "no," give yourself permission to stop and nourish your body. Ask your kids to identify body cues that indicate a physical need hasn't been met. Ask your kids, "how do you know when you're feeling hungry?" or "how does your body feel when it's tired?" This will help your kids to describe and communicate basic needs even when they are preoccupied with holiday distractions.

Managing Holiday Stress

Checking in with your emotional needs is just as important as addressing physical needs. Luckily, our bodies often give us physical cues that our emotional needs are not being met. For example, ask yourself, "am I feeling tension in my shoulders?" or "am I exhausted despite getting adequate sleep?" These may be physical responses to big emotions. Take a moment to review the events of your day and ask yourself if you noticed any mood changes related events or interactions. Perhaps you felt a pit in your stomach after your aunt asked about your son's math grades. Identifying feelings such as anxiety or anger in moments like this allows us to process feelings and come up with strategies for self-soothing. This could be something like taking a warm shower, listening to upbeat music, or taking a walk around the block. Self-soothing strategies that appeal to one or more of the 5 senses often work best. See the ideas below or brainstorm with your kids to come up with your own!

Managing Holiday Stress

Tips for Managing Interpersonal Conflict

Another part of the holiday season is socializing and reconnecting with friends and loved ones. While this can be a wonderful aspect of celebrating holidays, spending time with others can also be challenging, especially when conflicts arise. To address conflict, it can be helpful to use a technique called “I statements.” To create an “I-statement,” simply state how you feel and ask for what you need. For example, “I feel embarrassed when you ask about my grades in front of the family. Can we figure out a time to talk privately?” These types of statements prevent the other person from feeling attacked and responding defensively. For example, your child may be thinking, “how can my great-aunt be so rude? She knows I struggle with math, why can't she keep her mouth shut?!” but stating this to a family member would likely cause hurt feelings and escalate the conflict.

Furthermore, when conflict arises, try the technique of "addressing one concern at a time." For example, when your aunt asks your son about his math grades, it may be tempting to point out other times she has embarrassed you or made unhelpful comments about your children. However, ambushing a family member with multiple pieces of evidence to emphasize their bad behavior will likely worsen the conflict. Instead, try focusing on the main concern and explaining why it hurt your feelings. This is also a great way to model effective conflict resolution for you kids! If you find yourself overcome with emotion in a situation like this, try taking a quick break and practicing one of the self-soothing techniques mentioned above before addressing a conflict.

Managing Challenging Behaviors

Finally, with all the excitement, anticipation, and overstimulation the holidays bring, kids may be more likely to misbehave. Try using the communication techniques explained above to address misbehavior. Furthermore, to prevent your child from feeling embarrassed and emotionally dysregulated, try talking privately with your child and modeling a soft tone of voice when addressing conflict. Additionally, providing children with positive attention amongst all the holiday hustle and bustle will decrease the likelihood kids will act out for attention. To provide your child with positive attention, give your child specific, positive praise throughout the day. For example, if your child spills some cereal and milk and cleans it up right away, enthusiastically praise your child for this positive behavior. Say something like, “Thank you for being so responsible and cleaning up your mess! I am so proud of you.” Although this may seem like a small event in the course of the day, the child will respond to the positive attention and will be more likely to repeat the good behavior.

For additional information on addressing conflict with kids, check out my previous posts: Tips for Communicating with Kids and The Power of Active Listening. If you are facing challenging family dynamics or difficulty managing conflict during the holidays or any time of the year, it can be helpful to talk with a therapist!


At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialize in assisting young adults, teens, and children with navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about me and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation, either over telehealth or in person!


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