How To Handle Family Holidays With An Anxious Child

by | Nov 8, 2022 | Family, Mental Health, Tips

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The holidays are just around the corner.  A time for joy and merriment.  But if your child struggles with anxiety, holidays or big family events can be very difficult.  How do you handle family holidays with an anxious child? You CAN alleviate this stress and help your child.  It just takes a little planning and a lot of patience.  

Mood and behavior changes may appear in the weeks leading up to a holiday or event.  Anxiety over holidays can affect your child in many different ways, and they may not even realize it.  Before a holiday, there are changes in routine and structure.  There is more stress in the household.  And suddenly there is an expectation that you will spend time with family and have fun!  When a child struggles with anxiety, all of these disruptions and added expectations lead to more stress and worry.

Recognize The Stress

Family at table for holiday meal

Before the holiday, start to look for signs of added stress in your household. Look for ways that it is hard for your child to handle family holidays. 

    • Has your family become “busier”?
    • Are there more family commitments on weekends?
    • In the evenings after school, do you now need to go shopping?
    • Are there any financial hardships?
    • Has your family started talking only about what needs to get done, instead of engaging in relaxing and having fun together?
    • Do you complain about having to spend time with family members?  (Like the annoying uncle Phil who talks to loud)

Ask Questions

Also, try sitting down with your child and asking them what they are nervous or stressed about. You may need to dig a little farther using the “Why” method by asking Why 5 times. 

For Example:

    1. Parent – Why are you nervous?   Child – Because we have to go to grandma’s house.
    2. Parent – Why are you nervous about grandma’s house?  Child – Because we have to be quiet.
    3. Parent – Why do you think we have to be quiet? Child – Because grandma gets mad when we wake her from her nap?
    4. Parent – Why do you think grandma gets mad?  Child – Because she tells us to go play in basement?
    5. Parent – Why do you not like playing in the basement? Child- Because I want to stay in the main floor where the rest of the family is.

By asking “Why” multiple times you can get to the root of the problem and realize that the child isn’t nervous about everything with going to grandma’s house, but is actually nervous about having to play in the basement by themselves.  Now you can work with the child to come up with alternative options to alleviate that stress such as quiet activities to do all on one floor, or have another person join the child in the basement. 

Plan For Success

Once you recognize the stress, you can start to plan for success so that your child feels confident about attending a family event.  They will be able to handle family holidays easier.

If you haven’t gotten it yet, make sure to grab our free guide, Stop the Stress, Plan for Success – How to Help Your Child Survive Big Family Events.  This guide is packed with lots of great tools to help you create a plan for your child to feel comfortable with events that are to come.

Here are the 5 main steps to help with planning.

    1. Talk about what could happen
    2. Create expectations together
    3. Talk about what is in your control vs what is out of your control.
    4. Have a signal for distress
    5. Have strategies to help when stressed
family and friends on patio visiting- handle family holidays

Remember Your Purpose

It is easy to get caught up in the season with adding so many things to do.  Or by feeling obligated to be a part of every family event.  Focus yourself, your child and your family on “the why.”  What is the purpose of the holiday?  Is it to celebrate?  To honor?  To show devotion?  If so, return to that purpose and make that the focus.  Cut out the extra “noise” and put your energy toward what is important.

This is the same for family events.  What is the purpose?  To be together?  To have fun?  To build relationships?  Then stop with making the perfect turkey or having the best gift.  Focus your time and energy on your true purpose.   

Knowing the purpose, and cutting out all of the “extras” will help your anxious child and you have a wonderful holiday full of joy and merriment.


How To Handle Family Holidays With An Anxious Child

By Lisa Edwards, M.Ed., Parent Coach

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