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The Perils of Perfection - Making Holidays Less Stressful

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It’s right around the corner! The holiday season. This time of year can really dial up the pressure on already overextended parents. The urge to provide your family with a “perfect” holiday can wreak havoc on your well-being while entertaining, travel and gifting can also do a number on the wallet.

“Balancing the excitement and stress and maintaining our health and mental wellness during the holidays can be difficult—and it can be difficult for our kids, too,” says Anne Bird, MD, medical program director of Behavioral Health Integration at Rady Children’s. Stress is a normal emotional response to challenging events, but most kids don’t have the coping skills yet to navigate through it by themselves, says Dr. Bird. Keep an eye out for unusual behaviors, such as emotional outbursts, sleeping issues, irritability or becoming withdrawn.

Willough Jenkins, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Rady Children’s and inpatient medical director of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, says that creating holiday magic for your family doesn’t have to come at a high cost, physically or emotionally.

“It’s a misconception that the holidays have to be perfect,” she says. “For many families, that’s just not the case.”

Dr. Bird and Dr. Jenkins have a few tips to help take the stress out of the holiday season.

Be present. Put your phone down, step away from work and enjoy the special moments.

Give back. The holidays are a great time to teach kids that giving can be fun. Try volunteering together as a family, donating to a toy drive, taking clothes to a shelter or finding another way to help those less fortunate.

Spend time outdoors. Keep kids engaged while they’re on break from school with activities like exploring a new park or hiking trail, going on a family walk or bike ride, hitting the beach or trying a new sport—sunshine and exercise are known stressbusters.

Stick to a routine. Kids thrive on consistency, so prioritize sticking to schedules.

Manage expectations. Sit down with your kids and talk through holiday plans and how they’re feeling.

Avoid overscheduling. It’s easy to get overextended around the holidays, and all that running around can be a lot for children. Remember to plan for some downtime.

Reflect. Talk to your child about how they’ve grown over the past year. Discuss the bests and worsts and any other meaningful experiences. Bonus points for laughter—it’s a natural stress reliever