How to help children and parents cope with stress during the holidays

Posted 12/6/23

It’s considered the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be one of the most...

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How to help children and parents cope with stress during the holidays


It’s considered the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be one of the most stressful times of the year. During the holidays, parents often feel the pressure to make the season magical for their children, which can include getting everything on their wish list. But what happens if a child’s perfect present is out of reach logistically or financially?

The Children’s Healing Institute, a Palm Beach County organization that focuses on strengthening families dealing with crises, offers these tips to help parents and children cope with disappointment and mental stress during the holidays.

Set Realistic Expectations:
• Give definitive responses with children. A “maybe” is still considered a “yes” for our little ones, so talk to them with clear, direct answers to expectations with gift-giving this holiday season. Depending on the type of gift requested, set realistic expectations for yourself on your ability to afford the gift for the child. Consider creative gift-giving ideas, such as DIY presents or experiences, to alleviate financial strain. Buying one gift for the entire family to enjoy can also be a helpful alternative to gifts that are out of budget.

Talk Through Disappointment:
• Encourage children to express their emotions on their disappointment through describing how they are feeling. They can draw, sing, or verbally tell you. Feelings of disappointment is connected to unmet expectations and parents can set realistic expectations early on to avoid let downs.

Set Up a Holiday Fund:
• If your child wants a gift that is out of the budget for the holidays, set up a holiday fund for 2024. This can be organized a year in advance so that there is enough time to save up for that special gift which can be collected through earned allowances, etc. It also teaches children delayed gratification which builds more satisfaction when receiving their gift in the future.

Tackle Gift Envy with Symbolic Gifts:
• If there are multiple siblings, they can create a wish list that describes their special talents, qualities and favorites things. This wish list gets exchanged among the family in which each individual can be creative in what they buy each other and share the “why”. This creates more bonding and connection which reduces the chances of gift envy. You can also have the children/family choose whether they want to donate gifts/service to families in need this year for the holidays. If gift envy happens, encourage children to express their emotions and offer support during that process.

Create Boundaries to Reduce Stress:
• Discuss the power of setting boundaries and knowing when to say “no.” Encourage open conversations about prioritizing commitments and respectfully declining additional obligations that could overwhelm the family. Reinforce that saying “no” can sometimes be a positive choice. Encouraging breaks for relaxation and self-care activities benefits everyone’s mental well-being during this busy period.

stress, Christmas, holiday, mental health