Supporting Your Kids through Holiday Stress
By Melissa Meyer, DNP, PMHNP-BC, child psychiatry specialist at DMG Children’s Rehabilitative Services
The holidays are a time of peace, love, joy, and family, but it’s also a time where schedules are irregular, routines are disrupted, meals are heavier, and sugar abounds. For children of all ages, these changes can be difficult; if the child has depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, attention deficit disorder (ADHD) or other emotional or behavioral health challenges, the holidays can compound the issue.
Did you know?
- Depression and anxiety: According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, about 1.9 million children ages 3 to 17 years have been diagnosed with depression, and 4.4 million have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
- ADHD: Nearly 6.1 million kids ages 2 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to a 2018 study in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.
If your child suffers with emotional or mental health issues, here’s some tips to help you child and your family decrease the stress and impact of the holidays:
- Communicate plans: With each activity or outing, let the child know what will be happening ahead of time- who will be there, how long you will be staying, what food to expect, etc. Knowing what will be happening will help decrease anxiety.
- Share feelings: If you are feeling stressed, tired, or anxious, share your feelings with the child. He or she will take comfort in knowing that even adults get nervous and stressed during the holidays.
- Maintain a sleep schedule: Everyone in the family will benefit from a good night’s rest, especially children. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, kids with mental health issues need adequate sleep; for teens, 8 to 10 hours per night is recommended.
- Manage screen and device time: When adults are busy, it’s easy for children of all ages to occupy themselves with television, video games, and social media. However, too much “technology time” has proven to negatively impact sleep as well as contribute to depression.
- Keep medication schedules: If a child takes medication, ensure he or she continues to take it at the same time each day.
- Watch sugar intake: Help keep the child’s diet balanced with regular nutritious meals and limit sweets and sugar-filled drinks, especially before bedtime.
Most importantly, be aware of the child’s mood and listen to him or her. The child or teen make need some downtime in between the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Allow time in the family’s schedule for everyone to decompress, so each member of your family can enjoy the spirit of the holidays.