When thinking about the holidays a myriad of images can emerge: twinkling lights, steaming mugs of hot chocolate and festive gatherings…as well as overstimulated children, disrupted schedules and meltdowns.
Navigating holidays can be challenging, especially when your child struggles with anxiety. A wide range of emotions and behaviors can be associated with anxiety such as worry, irritability, anger, withdrawal, rigidity, psychosomatic symptoms (ex: tummy aches) and more. Implementing several supportive practices ahead of time can help you feel prepared for those moments when the holiday feels less than magical.
Set Your Family Up for Success
Holiday activities and school breaks disrupt the daily routine and can cause feelings of anxiety and a lack of control. While it takes some work upfront, planning and preparation can help set everyone up for an enjoyable time.
- Stick to your established routine as much as possible to provide consistency.
- Set realistic and developmentally appropriate expectations for your child.
- Give your child a heads up about events so that they know what to expect.
- Create opportunities that allow your child to express their feelings and concerns.
- The sensory aspect of the holidays can be very stimulating with all the lights, sounds, smells, and foods. Plan to allow children to take breaks or go to a quiet room. Have a snack that you know your child will like on hand.
- There is so much to do around this time of the year. Allow for down time for yourself and your child. Being too tired can set the stage for a meltdown or an increase in anxiety.
- When possible, offer your child choices to help them feel more in control of their world.
- Practice positive coping skills when things are going well – our brains learn skills best during periods of emotional regulation.
Provide Safe Supports for Difficult Moments
- Allow your child to choose a grounding object (toy, article of clothing, comforting object) to have on hand for gatherings to use as a regulation aid.
- Remain consistent with boundaries and consequences.
- It’s normal for children (and adults) to have big feelings arise during the holidays. Your child’s behavior is not a reflection of your worth as a parent. (In case you missed that, your child’s behavior is NOT a reflection of your worth as a parent!) The best gift that you can offer your child during difficult moments is the regulation of your own emotions.
Embrace the Moments of Joy and Connection
What we envision as being the most special, memorable moments of the holidays may be very different from the moments that are most meaningful to our children. Sometimes the holidays can feel like a “test” of the happiness and success of our family. If we manage our own expectations and are flexible, we set a great example to our children of how to manage stressors. By releasing the pressure of having the “perfect day,” we allow space for beautiful moments of connection.
While we cannot always know when big emotions will surface, we can prepare for how to handle them. Laugh together, tap into your sense of humor, and embrace those moments in which you can be fully present.
Happy (and exciting, chaotic, messy, and enchanting) Holidays!
-Ana Guzmán, LPC Supervisor, Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor™ and Lauren Copenhaver, LPC Supervisor, EMDR Trained, Registered Play Therapist™
Ana and Lauren are two of three co-owners of Illuminated Hope Counseling & Consulting, PLLC, a private practice in Dallas, TX. These trusted advisors help some current Lionheart families develop positive techniques for navigating all the big challenges life presents.
Along with their colleague, Leslie Boutte, LPC Supervisor, Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor™, they started Illuminated Hope Counseling & Consulting with the goal of supporting their community of children, teens, adults, families, and fellow clinicians. The name Illuminated Hope was born out of the belief that the right amount of support can illuminate the potential for hope where it might not have seemed possible before. They believe that healing is human nature and that anyone can move towards healing and hope with therapeutic support. As a practice they provide individual therapy, clinical supervision, and training for community members and fellow clinicians. Visit them at www.illuminatedhopecounseling.com or connect with them on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn!