5 Ideas for Helping Kids Cope with Anxiety and Enjoy a Meaningful Holiday Season

As we head toward the holiday season, many of us find ourselves managing a high level of unease and anxiety for ourselves and our children. If our world were a snow globe, the pandemic itself, along with its consequences and the accompanying uncertainty for the future, has really shaken things up. Our world has been turned upside-down, and the snow is far from settled. We have had losses. So have our children. There is so much that has been hard about this time.

So preparing ourselves and our children for this year’s holiday season may seem overwhelming. Let’s face it, with frayed nerves and a sense of uncertainty, we may feel as if we are steadying ourselves for the task of creating a “perfect” holiday season for our families. We’ve seen the ads: the perfectly decorated home; the adorable, always smiling, and forever stain-free and grateful children; the snow, falling from the sky but somehow not preventing travel. The story is so perfect that the expectations likely feel sky-high.

But there is no such thing as the perfect holiday. And expecting perfection will surely lead us to misery.

So what might be the recipe for a meaningful holiday?

Let’s start by applying some lessons from the past 20+ months. With that in mind, here are some tips for having a meaningful holiday season.

1. Keep It Simple

Instead of striving for perfection, give yourself permission to do less. I heard over and over again from families that, when staying safe meant cancelled events and a much slower schedule, an unexpected gift was more time with those they love the most. Cleared calendars often meant time to truly be together. So this holiday season, remember that there is no need to accept every invite that is offered. It is okay to forgo some of the festivities we typically attended in the past. It is okay to decorate less. Bake less. Shop less. Permit yourself to loosen the expectations and keep it simple.

2. Allow for Feelings

The losses that we have endured from the pandemic have been numerous. And getting through this time has been hard. When we have the ability to recognize, the vocabulary to identify, and the freedom to express our emotions as we feel them, we are able to manage difficult situations with grace. So allow space for all your feelings, and model this for children. It can help them learn to identify their own feelings and put them into words.

As parents or caregivers, protecting our children from pain is often our very understandable instinct. But some pain is necessary to grow. Acknowledging emotional pain and expressing it are part of the healing process. So, allow it. Be with your child. Let them know that you see them and that you accept them just as fully with their pain as you do when they are having a terrific day. It’s hard, but the lesson is so important. By allowing uncomfortable feelings to emerge rather than denying them or being protected from them, true healing and growth occur.

3. Prioritize Self-Care for All

What might self-care look like? Quiet time. Mindfulness. Good sleep. Eating healthy. Allowing for feelings. Asking for help when you need it. Saying no when you need to say no. These self-care activities can fill our souls.

And we can’t just insist that our children remember to take care of themselves, although that is important. We need to model self-care as well. Of course we want our children to listen to what we say, but they watch us too. So if we don’t demonstrate, in our own lives, that self-care is a priority, it will be difficult for them to learn to prioritize it.

So this holiday season, try not to fill every moment. Sink into some of the quieter ones as a family. Listen to soft music and do art together. Head outdoors for a crisp walk. When we make it a priority to take good care of ourselves as parents, everybody in the family benefits.

4. Bring Meaning to Our Connections

With the pandemic not yet over, connections may be a little different these holidays, and face-to-face interactions may still prove too risky. We can acknowledge that this stinks. Being together is often so good for us. Good for our souls. But I believe that we have learned some different, though still meaningful, ways to be together.

We can help our children think about something they love about their time with a loved one and use that to make a plan to connect. Love to read? Make and send a bookmark. Or read a favorite book together.

Is hot cocoa and snuggle time a tradition? Have a remote hot cocoa party where everyone brings a favorite mug along with a cuddly snuggle partner. Use your imagination to find new ways to be together.

5. Take Care of Each Other

One thing that has become even more apparent over this time is that we need each other. Our behavior and choices don’t just affect us. They affect others too. What an important lesson! And when we take the time to think about someone else, it helps take the focus away from our own worries for the moment.

How can we teach our kids to be there for each other? We can let them do the dishes, even when we know it would be quicker to do them ourselves. We can help them show up when they said would show up. We can work together to surprise a neighbor who lives alone with a card, a treat, or a song.

When we get out of ourselves for a while, we can often come back with a renewed perspective.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, amid the stress, we could be present and really enjoy time together this holiday season? It is possible if we focus on simplicity and connection. If we keep our expectations simple, be intentional about what we say yes to, and put a little more focus on “being” and a little less on “buying,” then we can celebrate this year in a way that has meaning in this stressed-out world.

 

Lisa L. Walsh is a school social worker with more than 20 years of experience in counseling students from preschool to high school. She is the author of a young adult novel about a family affected by addiction and has done local TV and radio interviews as well as readings and other events. Her students inspired Violet the Snowgirl—it was a real-life discussion of loss in a classroom of eight-year-olds who were empathizing with a classmate whose father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Walsh has two adult daughters and lives in Gifford, Illinois.

Lisa is the author of Violet the Snowgirl: A Story of Loss and Healing

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