Holiday Stress and Your Anxious Child

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By Brooke Skipper, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

No school, sweet treats, presents, and parties…You might think this is every kid’s dream! If you have a child with anxiety, however, you know this combination can be a huge trigger.

While a long school vacation might feel like a relief for many kids, the break in routine can be difficult for those with anxitety. The parties, loud noises, and bright lights can create sensory overload for anxious kids.

For children who struggle with anxiety or who are simply more introverted, the constant activity and socializing can be very overwhelming. To minimize meltdowns, tantrums, and stress for the whole family, work on coping ahead of time by employing some simple strategies.

1.    Identify the warning signs. Talk with your child about how their body feels when they are anxious. Are they experiencing sweating, racing heart, or butterflies in their bellies? Pay attention to your child’s behavior during anxious times. Some warning signs may be:

·       Excessive tears or clinging to parents

·       Isolating

·       Psychosomatic complaints (headaches, stomach aches, random pains that cannot be explained)

2.    Create coping strategies. Once you and your child understand the warning signs, know what to do to decrease anxiety before it spirals. The more a child can practice these coping skills, the better at them they will become. Make sure your child’s favorite coping tools go with you to events and outings. Some easy skills to try are:

·       Journaling

·       Music

·       Art expression

·       Exercise

·       Deep breathing

·       Fidgets or stress balls

3.    Set expectations. Let your child know what the schedule for the day is. Describe the events you will be attending, who will be there, and what your child may enjoy while there. This helps your child feel more in control and less anxious.

4.    Make time to reconnect. With the holidays full of busy schedules and lots of family and friends, it can be hard to have meaningful one-on-one time with your child. An anxious kid craves that slow-paced rest and relaxation time spent with you as their safety net. Find time to recharge with your child each day, talk through how they are feeling, and identify any needs they have.

Children thrive on routine. Finding ways to maintain some form of normalcy during this chaotic time can be extremely beneficial for an anxious child. Try to ensure your child gets plenty of restful sleep and eats nutritious meals, even if bedtimes and mealtimes shift to accommodate events.

Remember, you are your child’s best advocate. If there is an event that just does not work for your family, it is ok to maintain boundaries and not attend.