Stressor #1...Routine changes. Families may be thrown into a busy and chaotic schedule of planning gatherings, going to special events, and frantically shopping for gifts and food.
Solution...Provide structure and limit events if needed. Prepare your child in advance for events or changes in routine. Create a weekly or monthly (for older children and teens) schedule that lists all special events and activities. Review it together in advance. Placing all the events on a calendar makes it easier to determine how busy your schedule truly is. You may decide the number of events can be reduced. This may give you and your children more time to re-charge between events rather than feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
Stressor #2...Interactions with family. There may be stress or anxiety surrounding how family members are going to get along during time together. A child may have thoughts that the family is going to argue. Worries can arise out of the fear that relatives may ask personal questions that a child would rather not share.
Solution...Validate, plan, role-play. Talk to your child beforehand about what they may be stressed about when spending time with family. Validate their feelings by letting them know you understand that the situation may be uncomfortable for them or make them feel nervous, upset, angry, etc. (e.g. “I know it’s really hard for you to see your uncle. We will get through it together”). Plan how they can respond if placed in a challenging situation. Then role-play the situation. For example, you can ask a personal question and have your child practice changing the topic or explaining that they do not want to talk about that subject.
Stressor #3...Homework during vacation. Some children and teens stress over work assigned during holiday break. It may be difficult for them to strike a balance between relaxation and getting their work completed. Procrastination until the day before going back to school may result in panic and arguments between child and caregivers. The child may also form negative judgments about themselves such as “I am stupid for letting it go to the last minute!” and “I can’t do anything right!” These thoughts are likely not productive in the moment and may lead to shame or anger.
Solution...Plan ahead and motivate! Have your child come up with a list of what they need to get done and how long they think it will take them. Help them organize these assignments on a calendar. It is best to start with the most daunting assignment first since avoidance of challenging tasks may lead to anxiety. Set up a motivational system that rewards the child or teen after they get an assignment done. Moms and dads reward themselves at the end of a long week with getting their nails done or going to a sporting event, and of course with getting paid. Kids, too, may require motivation to do school work, especially on their vacation. Rewards do not have to be something expensive or cost money at all! Come up with ideas together with your child. Think special trip to the mall, getting to eat their favorite food, staying out a little later with friends, or family game night.
Stressor #4...Comparing self to others/Feeling left out. It’s the norm to document life on social media platforms. As a result, children and teens are constantly aware of what their peers are doing….and what they are not. They likely will see pictures and videos of classmates on vacation. They may see posts of friends at holiday events and parties that they were not invited to.
Solution...Discuss reality vs. social media, encourage helpful thinking patterns, and set limits. Comparing themselves to others that they believe are having more fun than they are or feeling left out may produce stress and feelings such as jealousy, sadness, anxiety, and anger. Validate your child’s feelings and ask them if they want to talk about it. Remind your child that not everything they see on social media is a true reality. Ask them questions such as “When is the last time you posted something showing yourself not doing well?” or “Do you think this picture means that everything in their life is perfect?” Have them think about what they would say to a friend going through the same situation and then encourage them to say this to themselves. Generate a list of people, places, and things they are grateful for and remind them of the importance of focusing on themselves rather than what others are doing. This may mean limiting time on social media. Ask them, “Do you think it is helpful to look at all of these pictures and posts?” Many teens acknowledge that the answer is no. Suggest they take a break from scrolling for a few hours. You can also limit screen time on certain apps by setting up a password. As a parent you can do this yourself or have your teen practice self-control by setting up their own password and limits.
Stressor# 5 Traveling. Traveling can be a wonderful experience. At the same time, it can be stressful because it places us outside of our comfort zone and there are often many unknowns. Some children may have fears about flying, getting sick on a plane, or getting lost. Some children think about “worst case scenarios.” They may think that something extremely horrible may happen like a terrorist attack or being kidnapped.
Solution...Comfort, challenge, confront. Comfort your child by letting them you know you understand they are fearful and that you are going to help them to face their fears about traveling. Next, challenge unhelpful thinking patterns. Even though negative thoughts can feel like they are true and bound to happen, there usually is evidence to “fight back” against these thoughts to prove that they are not likely to happen. Be a detective with your child and ask, “What evidence supports that this will not happen? For example, if your child fears that that they will get lost in the airport, have them challenge that thought (e.g. “Mom and dad stay nearby me,” “I will have my phone in case of an emergency,” “I have gone to the airport many times and did not get lost). You can also ask your child if their fear is likely to happen or not. For example, if your child is worried something horrible will happen, ask them how likely they think it is for the horrific event to occur. You can discuss that the chances are low or almost none. Remind your child that they can confront their fears by facing them head-on. Help them develop positive coping statements such as “I can get through this,” “Even though I feel scared, it does not mean something bad will happen,” and “I can be brave.”