The holiday season is supposed to be the most wonderful time of year, full of celebration and love. But for parents of children with mental health, emotional and behavioral issues, it can also be a time of increased anxiety when they worry about how their family will cope with the changes in routine and the hustle and bustle of the weeks ahead.

With some advanced planning and a focus on family priorities, parents can consciously work to lessen stress and strengthen the relationships that are at the heart of the holidays. Here are just a few ways to make the most out of this season:

  • Embrace family rituals. Family rituals are emotionally meaningful and convey the message, “This is who we are; this is what it means to be part of this family” (Fiese 2002). Rituals — such as dedicating a day to prepare your family’s favorite meal — foster a sense of belonging and identity, and involve children in activities that are meaningful where they can feel successful and supported. We invite you to learn more about the importance of family rituals here.
  • Consider carefully which activities your child should participate in. Some holiday activities are fun for the whole family. Others may set your child up for failure. The goal is to be proactive, not reactive. For example, if you are planning a Black Friday Shopping trip, ask yourself, “Does my child consistently show the knowledge, skills, judgment and self-control to behave in a crowded mall?” If they don’t, then taking them with you is a recipe for disaster. Certainly, malls are not places for children who are easily overstimulated and demanding. Instead, have a family member stay home with your child. Not everyone will want to go shopping and those who do will enjoy their time, minus the meltdowns.
  • Seek calm. Parents are often stressed around the holidays. Add to this an overly aroused child, and it is not a pretty scene. Ask family and friends to tone it down and help you keep the celebration simple and low-key. Base what you do on what you think your child can handle — and create family observances that are appropriate for their emotional needs. Learn more about how to be a calm parent here.
  • Communicate to deepen relationships. The most meaningful part of the holidays are spending time together and strengthening family relationships. Maybe consider keeping things simple and gatherings small so you can take the time to communicate with your child in ways that are supportive and loving. You can learn more about ways to strengthen your communication with your child here.
    • Focus on the positive by acknowledging your child’s unique talents and strengths. “I love the way you sing!”
    • Offer encouragement. Expressing your confidence in their ability to succeed will help them have hope and greater self-confidence.
    • Take pleasure. Regardless of how small, express joy in your child’s accomplishments. Let your child know you enjoy their company. Develop common interests. Find a way to have fun together.
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