Three Keys to Low Stress Family Holidays

You’ve been planning Thanksgiving for weeks. You’re hosting it for the first time this year, and the whole family’s coming. Your son is excited to see all the cousins and can hardly contain himself.

Then the doorbell rings and it’s the grandparents. All of a sudden, he’s glued to your leg. It doesn’t matter that he loves them and talks about them every night at bedtime. In this moment, he’s overwhelmed. They’re all outstretched arms and smiles and he still won’t move.

Sound familiar?

How about this one?

You’ve always loved the lights around the holidays. You’re extra excited this year because everyone goes all out in your new neighborhood. Plus, your daughter is finally old enough to go for a light walk.

You’ve talked it up to her, and you’re both pumped. You load the baby into the carrier, and help your daughter zip her coat. Hot chocolate in hand, you head out to enjoy the festivities. After half a block of walking, your daughter asks you to pick her up. She wants someone to carry her, but she’s too big. She refuses to walk and now she’s crying. Nobody’s enjoying the lights.

You told her what to expect and she was thrilled. Why is your reality so different from what you both envisioned?

Holidays are stressful.

That’s the story we tell ourselves. The crowds are bigger, the meltdowns more frequent. And the family drama’s just waiting to bubble over.

This story of “holiday stress” is one of the biggest things standing between you and a joyful holiday season. The holidays are as stressful as you allow them to be. Buying into the limiting belief that they are stressful by nature guarantees that stress will be part of your holiday routine. It’s true, the holidays come with more commitments, but I’ve got a few keys to help you beat the holiday stress this year. Ready?

Key #1: Know your child and plan ahead.

This may sound easy. You, more than anyone else, know how delightful and challenging they can be. But if you want to make this the best holiday season yet, you’ve got to take that wealth of knowledge you’ve gathered over your child’s lifetime and apply it.

If your child runs around the house in anticipation of a party or family gathering but won’t even make eye contact when the guests arrive, plan accordingly.

One of my favorite ways to work through this is to talk to kids about what it means to be a host. Tell them how hosts are responsible for making their guests feel welcome. Explain that being a good host doesn’t necessarily mean hugging everyone who comes through the door. Ask them what would make them feel welcome in someone else’s home, then brainstorm ways that they can “be the host” within their comfort zone.

They might offer to take coats, or offer a glass of water when guests arrive. You could even bake cookies together to share with guests when they arrive.

If your family traditions involve crowds and your child finds them overwhelming, plan accordingly.

Make sure your plans include a way to meet all of your child’s needs. Don’t take them out on an empty stomach, and make sure you give them a safe space they can turn to if they get overstimulated. Need some ideas for how to create a safe space for your bigger kids? Here are a few:

  • A stroller. Most of us are really good about this when we have infants, but once our kids move out of the toddler phase, we expect them to walk on their own and opt for leaving the stroller at home.
  • A ride-along stroller board can be a great option for older siblings.
  • A wagon is another option for bigger kids. 
  • A toddler carrier can be a great option, too, but it doesn’t offer the same level of autonomy as the other options. The Beco Toddler (affiliate link) works for kids up to 60 lbs, and we’ve gotten great use out of ours.

If your child is sensitive to stiff fabrics or scratchy seams, take that into consideration when purchasing holiday outfits.

Offer them choices, and don’t force them to wear something they are uncomfortable in. It’s better to have a child who’s under-dressed than a child in constant melt-down.

When you take your child’s personality, sensitivities, and needs into consideration and make your plans with them in mind, holiday happenings are much more enjoyable for everyone

Key #2: Know your family.

If you’re making adjustments to your holiday traditions to better meet your child’s needs, be sure you take the time to fill everyone in. It will be easier for relatives to refrain from asking for a hug right off the bat if they know that your child is working on refining their hosting skills, and they’ll be less likely to sneer about the wagon you’re carting along when you go caroling if you explain that your child enjoys the festivities more when he or she knows they have a retreat available to them.

This won’t to prevent all family conflicts, but creating dialogue about your parenting decisions in advance is usually smoother than trying to explain yourself in the heat of the moment.

Key #3: Know your own limitations.

Most kids sense their caregivers’ stress. Even if you think you’re hiding it, if you’re on edge about the holidays, your child will be, too. Consider what causes you the most stress this time of year and make some conscientious decisions to keep yourself grounded. Make time for weekly yoga classes or daily meditation to keep you balanced. Practice the art of saying no. And if you find crowds overwhelming, make the choice to drive around and look at the lights instead of walking. Make it a point to identify and work around your stressors instead of letting them knock you over. You will feel better and you’ll see the difference reflected back to you in your child’s demeanor and behavior.

But what if you’ve tried all of these things before and the holidays still bring out the Grinches in your whole family?

Do you just resign yourself to it and paint yourself green?

No need! This is EXACTLY the type of thing I help my clients work through on every coaching call. I help my people figure out why all of the things they’ve tried haven’t worked the way they’d hoped. Armed with that insight, we figure out what will work – for them and their specific circumstances. It’s free to get started, just head to https://go.oncehub.com/partneredpathparenting and book your first call. 

Overstimulation is real.

It’s a big reason why so many parents face more challenges with their kids this time of year, an it isn’t always as obvious as we’d like to think. Prepare yourself to recognize the signs before the meltdowns start by downloading my free checklist. Just enter your email address below and I’ll send it your way.

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