The holidays are a fun and joyous time, but also a very busy one. Holiday stress and anxiety in children is not as uncommon as you might think. During the holiday season, there are lots of exciting activities and events going on, both at home and at school. While that can be a good thing, the reality is that all that hustle and bustle means schedules are often out of whack, bedtimes get pushed back and routines are disrupted. As a result, it is inevitable that some kids may feel a degree of holiday stress.

There are many ways parents can help, according to Allan M. Josephson, MD, and CEO of the Bingham Clinic. First, set a calm example. Children are very perceptive and will pick up on how mom and dad are juggling all of the activities and demands of the season. Parents can set the stage for a relaxed, stress-free holiday by taking a deep breath, avoiding the pitfalls of commercialism and reminding themselves of the true meaning of the holiday. 

Josephson recommends that parents stick with the normal routine as much as possible and keep stressful holiday shopping and eating out to a minimum. Prepare for the holiday early to reduce anxiety and stick to regular bedtimes as much as possible. Don’t let kids get overtired. Don’t overcommit. Too much activity leads to overstimulation, which results in cranky kids. Lay off the sweets. Make sure your children eat nutritious foods, drink lots of water and get some exercise.

Finally, make a schedule of upcoming holiday events, so kids will know clearly what’s coming up and what to expect. Surprises may be overwhelming at this time of year. Talk with your kids about holiday problems. If your holidays are going to be affected by financial challenges, for example, let the kids know in advance. This will take pressure off you to provide more than you can comfortably, and it puts kids in the loop.

And remember to relax and have some fun. Watch holiday movies with your kids, toast marshmallows and make hot chocolate. If you embrace the holiday spirit, chances are your kids will, too.