The holidays can be a whirlwind of activities for both parents and children. There’s shopping to do, parties to attend, community festivals to enjoy – which all should be magical and exciting, right?
But, what if just the thought of going to a crowded mall, meeting with relatives you haven’t seen in a while or walking around a noisy, chaotic festival made you feel nervous? Know that you’re not alone. If you or your child is struggling with a mental health condition, the list of expected holiday activities can seem insurmountable.
Before you head out to that next activity on your list, check out these tips to help you and your child enjoy the festivities.
If your child has ADHD, consider:
- Prepping your child before the event. The unknown is scary for all of us. If your child knows in advance what to expect, they’ll likely feel more comfortable attending.
- Bringing soothing tools with you. Do breathing exercises or a particular item to help soothe your child? Practice breathing exercises on your way to the event. Allow them to hold that item so they can engage in that sensory regulating activity whenever things start to feel overwhelming. Or, is there a friend or relative who they really enjoy being around? Invite them to come along. Make sure to have whatever soothes your child with you.
- Attending events that are structured. Again, knowing what to expect is extremely helpful for managing your child’s stress level. If they can anticipate that Santa is coming at a specific time and that they’ll be making a holiday craft after, they most likely won’t feel as overwhelmed.
- Restricting your attendance to settings that are more contained. There’s so much going on at the mall – lights are flashing, people are talking and Christmas music is blaring from every store. Instead, take a picture with Santa at the nearby library or make crafts together at a neighborhood community center.
- Using positive statements when your child is feeling overwhelmed. Instead of pointing out what they’re doing, try encouraging them to do something that would be helpful in calming them down. “I can see that you’re getting upset, why don’t we try some deep breathing?”
- Limiting the activities. You don’t have to do it all to have a good time. If you’re seeing that your child is getting overstimulated, make the call to leave, instead of making them stay through the entire event.
- Monitoring their sugar intake. We all like to indulge during the holidays, but too many sweet treats for your child with ADHD can be harmful.
If your child struggles with anxiety or depression, consider:
- Encouraging them to attend activities. They might want to isolate themselves during this time, but try gently reminding them that they can have a good time getting out of the house and being around other people. There may even be support groups in your area that can further encourage them.
- Avoiding large crowds. Going to small gatherings with fewer people in attendance will be less anxiety inducing and much more enjoyable than large parties or events.
- Inviting their support system. Having someone there who encourages them to enjoy the festivities will make all the difference. And if their support person can’t attend, encourage them to talk to the person before the event on the phone. Also, remind them that they can briefly step out to call that person if they’re getting stressed, and then return to the party once they feel calm again.
- Setting time limits. Going to an event that lasts for hours can be overwhelming and stressful. Instead agree to a more manageable timeframe and be flexible. “Let’s just stay for another 10 minutes, and then we’ll go.”
- Keeping a normal exercise routine. It’s easy to neglect your normal exercise routine in all the busyness, but exercise can help combat holiday blues that so many people experience this time of year.
- Making sure they’re eating enough. Holidays can bring up a lot of feelings of loss. This may cause your child to avoid eating. Be aware of how much food they are eating and encourage them to keep a healthy diet.
- Honoring those who they’ve lost. It can be hard to imagine decorating the Christmas tree or drinking eggnog, if that was something they enjoyed doing with a loved one who passed away. Instead of focusing on mourning, continue those traditions as a way to remember and honor those who passed in a healthy, positive way.
Everyone deserves to have fun during the holidays. It’s just about learning to find ways that will make your child feel comfortable.
Ani Nat, LCSW, is a Clinical Therapist on the Intensive Services Program team at The Guidance Center. For more than four years, Nat has guided adults, children and their families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures through mental health treatment. Nat earned a Master of Social Work from University of Southern California, and Bachelors of Arts in Child and Adolescent Development from Cal State University, Northridge.