As a child, I loved Boxing Day. For us Brits, that’s the national holiday that follows Christmas Day. Why? Because it felt like an enormous balloon had burst. The stress that had mounted in my parents, as surely as the excitement that had built in me, was gone. They knew that the one hundred Christmas cards they’d written and mailed had been received and acknowledged. The gifts for the family, the friends, the neighbors, teachers and dog had been unwrapped and enjoyed. The mince pies, home-made soups, yule logs and Christmas pudding had been served up and eaten; the church services attended, the visitors entertained. They were broke. Christmas Day was done. And finally they could sit back, relax and enjoy. And so could I!
The fact is that the season of “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All” can be a little stressful for the family. As parents, we try so hard to make it special for family and friends that we feel spent at the end of it, both financially and emotionally. Dr. Eileen Escarce, Ph.D., a clinical developmental psychologist and family coach at the UCLA Family Commons, agrees. “The holidays tend to be pretty miserable for many people, because there’s just so much that needs to be done. It’s exhausting and stressful.”
Sometimes, stress comes from trying to honor the spiritual season while dealing with a devastating situation like death, divorce or disease. Then we put on that Santa face for our kids; but kids are sensitive and not easily fooled. It was like that the year my mom braved breast cancer.
You see, our spirited kids are tuned into us. They love us and they care about us . Whether they’re 4 or 14, they know when something is wrong. As the American Psychology Association notes, almost 40 percent of children feel sad and worried when their parents are stressed. So, what does that mean for the holidays? We can dress them up in tinsel, but if it’s not working for us, it’s probably not working for our kids either. That’s why this year it’s time to do it differently and put the “ho, ho, ho” back into the holidays!
Holiday Stress-Busters for You and Your Kids!
1. Kids Write Cards — If your kids are like my kids, they like to get involved. So involve them! Delegate responsibilities and start with something as simple as writing holiday cards! For the past seven years, our family has mailed a hundred Christmas cards to the Tennyson Center, a home for children in Denver. While our kids were young, they would color pictures in the cards, now they help write the messages.
Last year, we gathered around the kitchen table, turned Elvis’ “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” up high and wrote for three evenings in a row. We chatted, we laughed, and we worked as a team to get our cards written. It was a job well done, and it meant that when I underwent a major operation the following week, I could rest easy knowing we’d accomplished our holiday goal.
2. Tykes Trim Trees — The tree is often the centerpiece of the home come the holidays — standing tall, proud and twinkling with color. But like all good holiday traditions, it takes time to get it trimmed. So give up on Times Square tree perfection and let your kids help. Show little children how to hang baubles on the lower branches, while older kids can take care of those hard-to-reach branches. Your tree will get trimmed in half the time and with twice the smiles — and at Christmas, that’s what matters.
3. Teens Cook Too! — Get your spirited kid cooking over the holidays and let them lighten your load with their baked festive delights! If food is good for the soul, then cooking is great for opening the creative and intuitive side of the brain. It’s also a grounding activity, which is perfect for de-stressing teens, too! And, by inviting your teen to experiment with their culinary skills, you give them an opportunity to shine and that will definitely be worth a holiday picture!
4. Snow Fun! — In the Upper Midwest, we’re usually not short of snow during December, so make the most of it and go outside with your kids and build a snowman. Snow play burns calories, gets the blood and endorphins flowing and reminds us all to enjoy the gift of the present!
5. Drink Green Tea — Eliminate the eggnog, jettison the hot chocolate, and purge your kids of caffeine-filled, sugary drinks that get them wired and tired. Choose green tea, instead. Researchers have found that regularly drinking five or more cups of green tea daily may reduce stress by 20 percent. If your kids won’t take their green tea straight, try a tropical green tea instead, and add a little foamed milk for a delicious, kid-friendly taste.
6. Sleep! — Tiredness exacerbates stress and anxiety and makes even the lightest chore difficult to do. So ensure you and your kids get to bed bright and early throughout December, and you’ll all be raring to go when it’s back-to-school and back-to-work come New Year!
Happy Holidays! Hanukkah, Kwanza and the glory of Christmas come but once a year, so ensure you and your spirited kids enjoy this wonderful, spiritual month by sharing the chores, halving the stress and making it a truly jolly, holly holiday for all!