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Taming Holiday Stress

by Lori Sciame | December 11th, 2013 | Behavior, Elementary

santa kidsIt’s not just infants that experience stress during the holidays; older children also succumb to stress this time of  year.  Imagine the following scenario.  Parents of a 7-year-old child throw rules out the window for four days each year.  After all, a visit to grandma’s house 1,000 miles away is a special time, one filled with food, family, and friends.  What these parents don’t realize is that their child feels safe when family rules are followed, and unfamiliar foods are just as scary as all the new people they are forced to meet.

While a trip to grandma’s house may be fun for the adults, for elementary age children it can be a trip filled with  stress. As the scenario above illustrates, children can become out of sorts during the visit.  The stress may cause them to “act up.”  This doesn’t mean that the child doesn’t love grandma; it means that he or she needs some extra TLC to cope with this yearly event.

First, if at all possible, keep the child on a schedule similar to the one he or she follows at home.  It may not be possible to do everything at the same time, but strive for doing things within an hour of what the child is used to.  For instance, if your child eats lunch at 11:30 and supper at 5:30 each day without fail, asking him to eat lunch at 2:30 and supper at 9:00 will cause considerable stress.  Also, if bedtime is after the 9:00 news, resist the temptation to keep your child up until midnight four nights in a row.  It is a given that doing so will only cause the child to end up having a meltdown.

Next, keep food choices familiar.  If your family eats meat on a regular basis, don’t suddenly require your child to be a vegan for four days. While this example is extreme, it illustrates my point well.  To keep your child happy, make sure that some of his favorite daily foods are on hand.  I am positive that if grandma (or grandpa) knows what to buy, I am sure she (or he) will be happy to oblige.

Finally, be sensitive when introducing “new” people to your child.  Aunt Lydia may be your favorite relative, but to your child, she may seem more like a stranger.  Because of this, don’t force your child to give hugs when she doesn’t want to; it’s not a sign of disrespect if she acts shy and awkward.  Plus, if Aunt Lydia is as great as you know she is, your daughter will warm up to her soon enough!

The best way to prevent holiday  meltdowns in your elementary age child is to remember what it’s like to be thrown into new surroundings where the food is strange, where mom and dad don’t act like mom and dad, and where the adults  know you, but you don’t know them!  While your child may still feel a bit stressed, keeping schedules, offering familiar foods, and taking family and friend introductions slowly will greatly lessen any behavior problems.

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