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6 Ways to Support My Anxious Child During the Holidays

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There is just so much to be excited for in December, especially if you’re a kid. There are colorful lights, cheery music, candy, presents, parties…and the list just goes on.

Excitement is fun! Holidays are fun!

But they can also be overwhelming.

My 7-year-old son has been dealing with anxiety for most of his life. Different routines, sensory overload, too many activities — all of these things are big stressors for my son. They are also things he enjoys in moderation.

I tend to go overboard for the holidays. I have Christmas music playing as soon as the Halloween decorations are put away. There are lights and tchotchkes all over the place. I have special holiday crafts and projects and have the kids help me pick out gifts for each other.

Before we knew our son had anxiety, my husband and I couldn’t figure out why he seemed to all of a sudden turn into an emotionally volatile kid. We’ve since pieced things together and come up with some guidelines that help anxiety levels down, while still maintaining the fun of the season.

1. Come early, leave early.

Holiday parties and gatherings are key sensory overload events. Crowds and music and food everywhere. We’ve found that arriving before the event gets into full swing, and then leaving as it picks up, really helps. We still get to have the fun of going, but we avoid burnout and meltdowns.

2. Lower expectations.

When my son was in preschool, I saved oodles of craft ideas for kids to do. Button wreaths and splatter-paint trees. Adorable. But also a lot of pressure. I wanted him to follow the general directions. (I mean, I’m not a dictator, but I wanted to make a wreath with the wreath kit, you know?) He wanted to cover a surface with glue and attach the buttons wherever his little hands led him. After that first year, I essentially buy the supplies, offer some ideas, but let him do what he wants. It’s about having fun, after all.

3. Say no.

This is something we could all do to help ourselves. There is no rule that you must attend every gathering. Is there a party in school one day and a parade that night? Skip the parade. It’s OK. Another play date invitation over the school break but he’s vegged out to the TV? I’ll let him have a day off of “fun.”

4. Reduce the Santa talk.

We do Santa all the way in our house. He has magic and flies in his sled and lives in the North Pole. But we’ve stopped talking about it much at home. He hears a lot of Santa talk at school so I don’t feel like he’s missing out. But by dialing it back a little, we’ve taken off some of the constant reminders to be “good” and “nice.” Anxious kiddos want to please; I don’t want to add on to that pressure.

5. Watch his cues.

I’ve learned most of my son’s “tells.” If he’s asking the same question repeatedly, chewing the end of his sleeves, acting out more than usual, waking up at night — then I know he’s getting overwhelmed and I need to slow things down. I’ll plan a few quiet days at home with our own fun and let him recharge.

6. Remind him that “good” is not “perfect.”

This ties into the Santa one, but it bears repeating. I don’t like the pressure kids have to be “good” or “nice” in general, but it’s even worse around the holidays. Kids are kids and will continue to be selfish and greedy and rude some of the time. They are human. And yes, we always want to teach our children to be kind and thoughtful. But our mantra is “do your personal best.”

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Thinkstock image by noblige

Originally published: November 14, 2017
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