Kristine Buelow, MSSW

8 Tips to Help Parents and Kids Keep Calm During the Holidays

December 17, 2019 By

The holidays are an exciting time when you can escape from your hectic school/work schedule and spend time with your family and friends. However, it also has the makings for a perfect storm with all the expectations—travel, family dinners, opening of gifts, long car rides, kids moods, and not enough sleep. 

Emotional Regulation Skills can help both parents and kids manage the many ups and downs that come with the holidays. Kids may need the help of their parents and strategies to cope with the highs and lows. Therefore, here are 8 tips to keep holiday experiences manageable and calm.

Tip 1: Stress Management

Manage your stress levels by planning ahead for the holidays. Communicate the upcoming schedule with your family and build in some flexibility for downtime for both you and the kids. Also try not to over-schedule and keep it simple. Review manners ahead of time with your children before visits with aunts and uncles, to avoid conflicts and extra correction. Kids can also feel a lot of pressure to be polite and on their best behavior during the holidays. Let’s set them up for success.

Tip 2: Reduce Body Tension

Rehearse strategies and coping skills with your kids before visiting relatives to help manage tantrums. Try some relaxation techniques such as yoga, breathing exercises, and hugs. Take a short walk before dinner or play a game outside to release the tension in your body. If your child needs some time to regroup, then find a quiet space to read a book or play a card game. For a younger child, a game of Simon Says or Follow the Leader can do wonders to feel connected and burn off extra tension.

Tip 3: Sleep Tips

If you are planning on visiting relatives for several days consider staying in a hotel instead of sleeping over, for some built in breathing space. To avoid hurt feelings, explain to your family why you’re not staying with them, for example, “The pool at the hotel is a perfect way for the kids to burn off their energy.” 

If a hotel is not an option, discuss with your family ahead of time where they will be sleeping and practice good sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene may include: allowing the body to calm down before bed, telling stories, reading books, taking a bath. Your child may want to snuggle with their favorite stuffed toy and/or blanket. Try not to over-excite with stories of Santa or opening gifts before bed.

Tip 4: Traveling

While long car rides can be boring for kids, try not to rely solely on DVD players and other video screens for entertainment. Consider bringing some books, snacks, toys, and games to keep your kids occupied during the trip. Also plan on shutting the screens down 20-30 minutes before arrival so your kids can transition and prepare to exit the car without a fuss.

Tip 5: Family Dinners

While the car ride may be over, dinner can be a stressful time when blood sugar is low and kids are expected to again sit for a meal. Eat a big breakfast or lunch earlier in the day to avoid becoming “hangry” when finally with family. Remind your kids to be polite and encourage them to eat what is served to them. Avoid forcing your kids if they are resistant to new foods, to lessen the stress on everyone. 

Bring snacks or offer to bring a favorite family dish to the occasion. A familiar item on the table may help your kids cope with the more unexpected foods. Remind kids that they can have other food after they leave. Consider sitting next to your child during the meal to keep an eye out of any help they might need. Your presence may also be calming for your child. My advice for families with food allergies is to bring your own food from home to reduce your stress and to help relatives who may not be prepared for your child’s special diet.

Tip 6: Encourage Self-Confidence

Praising your child for their good behavior reminds them of his/her strengths and promotes self-confidence. For example, older kids playing with the little ones, entertaining the family with jokes, card games or magic tricks are all ways for your child to connect and feel good about themselves.

Tip 7: Reduce Screen Time

Create happy memories by enlisting your child to help decorate cookies, wrap gifts, set the table, hand out gifts during the gift exchange, take photos of family members or perhaps help relatives to their cars.

Tip 8: Create a Calm Bag

A “Calm Bag” or “Calm Box” is designed to help your child self-regulate and engage in independent play by using several calming and soothing items in the bag. These items are non-screen related activities. Your child can also help design and fill the bag with items. Then pull out the bag at family gatherings or on the car ride home to help your child calm down. 

Here are examples of items you and your child could include in a “Calm Bag”: paper and crayons, fidget balls, bubbles, kinetic sand, a favorite book, small toys like race cars or dolls, snacks and water bottle/juice box, Legos, stuffed animals or squishes, or other items that engage creative play. 

Coping with the ups and downs of the holidays with kids can be tough. Planning ahead and using these tips above can help prevent many melt downs. Also lean into your instincts when preparing for trips. You know your kids the best and what they need for a calm and memorable holiday.

Happy Holidays from the therapists at Upswing! See you in the New Year! 


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Kristine Buelow, MSSW

Kristine Buelow, MSSW

Kristine is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice at Upswing Counseling in Wheaton IL, a division of Cherry Hill Counseling. Her background in community development and volunteer programs compliments her clinical training in child and family therapy. She works with children teens and the elderly. She utilizes play therapy, cognitive and expressive therapies, role-playing, sand tray, and art.

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