by Kelley Jilek
For many of us, the holidays are a time of increased stress. Our calendars are overflowing with parties, holiday programs, family get-togethers, shopping, and a variety of other commitments. The holidays can be exciting, but also exhausting. Our stress affects our children. To compound the problem, young children lack the skills that adults have to effectively deal with stresses and anxieties. Therefore, they may be experiencing our stress even more profoundly than we are.
Everyone is affected by stress differently, and children are no exception. You know your child best: when he or she seems a bit out of sorts, consider whether stress might be the culprit. Please note that many of these are normal behaviors for children ages two to five years. You’ll want to look for deviations from what is typical for your child regarding his or her behavior, disposition, and/or personality. This may be an increase, decrease, or an onset of behaviors, or it may be a regression of behaviors. Common signs of stress in preschool-age children are:
- Increased irritability or sensitivity and/or crying
- Reduced energy
- Nightmares or night terrors
- New onset of bedwetting or accidents while awake
- More frequent temper tantrums
- New onset of separation anxiety
- Unexplained physical complaints/symptoms
Keep your stress level in check this holiday season, and you’ll help your child as well. Here are a few tips:
1. Reduce your obligations. Look for ways to limit the number of tasks on your “To Do” list. Consider buying baked goods. There are probably numerous bakes sales at this time of year that would benefit from your support. It’s important to be realistic about what you will be able to accomplish in the amount of time you have.
2. Delegate tasks. Have older children help as much as possible. They can wrap gifts, decorate, or even help with household chores, such as cleaning.
3. Take care of yourself. The last thing you need is illness slowing you down and robbing your precious time, so make sure you and the members of your family are getting enough rest and exercise. It’s also important to eat right. Try to offer healthy meals, and make extra to freeze so you will have leftovers to enjoy during especially busy days.
4. Maintain routines. Routines allow children to feel as though they have some control – they know what to expect and when. During busy times like the holidays, it’s easy to forget this. Broken routines can result in stress for young children. Try to keep children’s schedules fairly close to what they are accustomed to whenever possible. For example, avoid taking your child shopping when he or she is normally napping.
Remember that the best and most important gift you can give your children is the time and attention they need. Your time together is what your child will remember for years to come. Don’t allow stress to steal it!