Strategies for Reducing Stress During the Holidays by Marianne Neifert

Remember that your own stress level and emotional state are readily transferred to your child. Lower your expectations for the “perfect” Christmas holiday and be prepared to “go with the flow” when your child’s needs call for flexibility. Keep her emotional tank full during the holiday season by scheduling daily one-on-one time to play, read, or do an activity together.

Shorten the Countdown

An extended period of anticipation can feel overwhelming to a young child. Consider waiting until mid-December to begin your holiday decorating or to use an Advent Calendar to track the days until Christmas. To defuse children’s mounting excitement about presents, let them open a few smaller gifts during the countdown to Christmas.

Don’t Make Santa Your December Disciplinarian

The anticipation, bustle of activity, and excessive stimulation during the weeks preceding Christmas already create stress and anxiety for children. Threatening that Santa will bring fewer presents if your child misbehaves only adds to the pressure and worry she feels, and ultimately proves to be an empty threat. Don’t abdicate your essential parenting role of consistently enforcing your rules and limits for appropriate behavior year-round.

Allow Children to Let off Steam

Arrange opportunities for your child to be physically active each day by playing outdoors or visiting an indoor children’s play center.

Schedule Some Quiet Time

Periodically allow your child to retreat and unwind from the excitement of holiday festivities by watching a favorite DVD or playing quietly with arts and crafts or Play-Doh.

Don’t Force Children to Sit on Santa’s Lap

While parents relish the time-honored photo of their youngster happily smiling on Santa’s lap, young children often perceive Santa as strange and scary and may violently recoil at the idea of being held by him. While waiting in line at the mall, show your child exactly what will happen if she chooses to greet Santa. If she is terrorized by the sight of a big stranger in a red suit, respect her emotional distress and show your support by not forcing her to sit on Santa’s lap.

Do you find your children to be a little stressed during the holidays? How do you schedule downtime while still participating in traditions?
Marianne Neifert, M.D., M.T.S., also known as Dr. Mom, is a well-known pediatrician, professional speaker, and author. Visit her web site,


  1. Here’s a tip for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends of the family: when you see a child who looks unhappy – give them some one-on-one attention. You don’t have to say anything life-changing or miraculously fix their world. Simply show them your interest by encouraging them to talk to you. If you don’t know where to start try asking any of these five questions:

    1. What would you want if you could have anything?
    2. What would you do if you could do anything?
    3. If you could talk to anyone who would it be?
    4. If you could eliminate one thing from your life what would it be?
    5. If you could give a wish to someone who would it be?

    Don’t worry about making the child feel worse. By asking this kind of open-ended question you’re helping him put his thoughts and feelings into words and get them off his chest. Some children will tell you everything, others won’t say more than a word or two. Either way you’ve given them what they want more than anything – the feeling that someone cares and they are not alone.

    Joe Gurkoff, MA, is co-author of the book: How Can I Help? – What You Can (And Can’t) Do To Counsel A Friend, Colleague Or Family Member With A Problem.

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