5 Tips for Stress-Free Holidays

It’s time to ratchet up for December, the month best described as “over the top” (as in overtired, over-stimulated, overindulged, etc.). For many children, including those with LD and ADHD, ’tis the season to be out of control. Kids who have trouble with change or difficulty coping with stress may find a house full of relatives or a trip to grandma’s challenging. Even the anticipation of opening presents can set off a downward spiral.

You may not be able to prevent all meltdowns, but you can minimize them by following these few simple guidelines

1.  Maintain routines to the degree possible. Even if you’re not in your home for the holidays try to keep to the routines that work for your child: morning and evening rituals, mealtimes, and bedtimes are especially important. Predictability is your friend in chaotic times. Most children—not just those with learning differences—do better when they have structure and know what to expect.

2.  Rest. It may seem obvious that an overtired child is more likely to be out of sorts and less able to manage an environment more stimulating than usual, but you’d be surprised how many parents let bedtimes slide as a “special treat” during the holidays. In fact, that’s the time to double-down on enforcing healthy sleep patterns. The CDC recommends that children sleep the following number of hours per night:

  • 1-3 years: 12-14 hours
  • 3-5 years: 11-13 hours
  • 5-10 years: 10-11 hours
  • 10-17 years: 8.5-9.5 hours

And children aren’t the only ones who will benefit from getting enough rest during the holidays; you, too, should aim for the adult recommendation of 7-9 hours.

3.  Avoid overscheduling. From decorating the house and caroling in the neighborhood to baking cookies and ice skating on the pond, the holidays bring endless opportunities for fun activities. But overdoing it will leave your child exhausted at best and over-stimulated at worst—a sure recipe for bad behavior. Pick a few special activities and spread them out over several days. If your schedule demands multiple activities on any given day, build in down time to allow your child to regroup, process where he’s been, and prepare for where he’s going next.

4.  Underplay gift-giving. Knowing the perfect gift awaits your child is exciting, but hyping it often backfires. (Remember the year he got the bike he had begged for, only to be so overwhelmed that he spent the next hour crying?) Heightened anticipation often throws off kids who have trouble regulating their emotions and behavior, possibly resulting in confusion as to how they’re supposed to react. The upshot is liable to be tears, hyperactivity, moodiness, or withdrawal—not exactly the reaction you were hoping for when you bought that perfect gift.

5.  Plan and prepare. Nothing can undermine the holidays more than anticipated activities that fall through or don’t live up to expectations. The obvious way to prevent that from happening is to plan ahead: buy tickets to the play before you tell her she’s going; make restaurant reservations rather than expecting to get seated as walk-ins; don’t drop in on her favorite cousins without calling ahead. Likewise, many children with LD do better when they know what’s coming—especially with new activities. Explaining how an event is likely to unfold will help remove uncertainty and allow your child to ask questions and get comfortable with it before it takes place. The idea here is to avoid surprises.

The holidays are a time of year when memories are made. By following these simple guidelines, you can ensure that your children’s future tales of holidays past will be remembered fondly.