Ah, the holiday season. That special time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s when everyone is happy and having fun. Or, that time when we are putting extra pressure on ourselves to be happy and having fun, which just creates stress for those around us. It can happen to anyone of course, but children who have experienced trauma pick up on that stress more readily and, in turn, can be overwhelmed by their feelings. Shodair Children’s Hospital has decades of experience as Montana’s leading resource for children’s mental health and advice for parents and caregivers to make the season festive rather than frantic.
“Take care of yourself,” said Tricia Wagner, licensed addiction counselor at Shodair. “Children often pick up on their parents’ emotions, so if you are stressed, they are going to be stressed. I know people talk a lot about self-care these days, but it is actually one of the best things parents can do, and it will help your children.”
Listening to your children can also help parents and caregivers spot and stop those stressful feelings. Children communicate verbally and non-verbally. They will let you know how they are feeling and whether they are overwhelmed. An active and upbeat child may become quiet and withdrawn. Or a calm child starts to be irritable or sad. Some scheduled downtime can help. There tends to be a lot of activities packed into December, so remember to slow down and give your kids some time to decompress.
Of course, it’s also important to let your children know their feelings are valid. “Remember, if something is a big deal to your child and they are having an emotional response, they need empathy and reassurance,” Wagner said. “It’s easy for adults to consider something trivial, but children need to know that everyone feels stress, and that’s OK. They need to know they have your understanding and support. That you are and will be there for them.”
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Setting reasonable expectations for yourself and others goes a long way toward creating a happy holiday.
“Just breathe,” Wagner said. “No one has a flawless holiday — that’s the truth no matter what Facebook or Instagram would have you believe. If the turkey is dry or you forgot to make a pie – so what? No one else may even notice. Just enjoy spending time with those around you.”
For more tips on helping your children avoid stress or to learn more about Shodair Children’s Hospital and its services, visit Shodair.org.