Make the most of the holiday season with tips on how to manage stress

December 16, 2016 | Posted in: Elementary, High School, Middle Years

Welcome to the dark side

Back in the day, when I was my children’s room parent, the holiday classroom parties were epic.

Personalized presents to remember the day by? Check.

Homemade goodies with a holiday theme? Check.

Games to keep the students engaged? Check.

We had it all covered.

Ask my children what they remember about the days leading up to these parties, however, and they are sure to use words like, “mean,” “stay away” and “Grinch.” My home was not a fun place to reside during when I was prepping for the annual holiday classroom party.

The holidays can bring out the best and worst in all of us. We quickly realize there are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything checked off our to do lists. The kids’ regular activities, including sports practices, music lessons, theater rehearsals and more, were only the tip of the iceberg. Add parties, concerts, shopping, cleaning, decorating and baking to an already packed schedule and the result is a mom that the kids are happy to wave goodbye to as we ring in the new year.

Can you relate?

Looking back, I wonder what I could have done differently so that the holidays were less stressful for me and more fun for my kids.

Monroe-Woodbury Central School District (Central Valley, NY) social worker Veronica Kaleta emphasizes that parents and students sometimes need help learning how to handle stress during the holidays. She emphasizes that it’s okay to let kids know that feeling discomfort is a big part of life, and one they can learn to manage.

“Today’s parents have a hard time not pleasing their children. While parents have the best intentions and want to show love and gratitude to their children, the holidays often result in people overextending themselves,” said Kaleta. “Parents then have to make some difficult decisions: What should we say yes to? Where should we draw back? How do we prioritize?”

Kaleta offers the following tips to parents on how to make the holiday season less stressful and more manageable:

  1. Both parents and children should get sufficient rest/sleep.
  2. Keep the nighttime rituals for bedtime. If it means coming home early from the mall to tuck in your child, it’s worth it!
  3. Maintain routine. Keeping things status quo will help maintain the regular rhythms of family life.
  4. Find your balance. Take the “long haul” approach. Plan, if you are able, and give yourself plenty of time to get everything done.

Kids and teachers are feeling it too

While family members may feel increasing pressure at home, this anxiety may also translate to the classrooms. As a result, teachers may work to find creative ways of lightening the load for their students during the days leading up to the holidays. Even the youngest students are not immune to anxiety.

“I am mindful about the excitement of the holidays, but also that some kids don’t have the same experiences,” Monroe-Woodbury first grade teacher Suzanne Adler said. “We keep things festive, but calm. I try to incorporate holiday music into the day, and we do classroom craft projects. We also have a class Kindness-a-thon. The students are assigned a kind act to perform in the school day and we decorate a tree with the acts. We don’t do a big party. That takes the pressure off the parents who can’t come in. Therefore, it takes some of the pressure off the kids.”

Pressures may come packaged differently as students reach the middle and high school levels, but they exist all the same. Final exams, college applications and the push to succeed may all lead to heightened anxiety at this time of year. Students at Monroe-Woodbury High School decided to try a creative approach to helping their peers better manage stress levels by holding Self Esteem Week, during the week before winter break. This student driven initiative, helps encourage and inspire fellow students to feel good about themselves.

“We want Self Esteem Week to capture the idea that everyone is worth something, and that you should definitely love yourself and everything that makes you, you,” senior Megan Midtbo said. “We hope to accomplish many things during Self Esteem Week; for one week, we want to make the school a judgment free, be whoever you want to be zone. Hopefully this week will impact students for the rest of the year and longer.”

“We want kids to feel good when they leave for winter break,” high school teacher Jessica Wright said. “It’s hard when everyone around you is feeling good and you’re feeling blue. We encourage them to keep busy, be involved and do something they enjoy. Everyone wants to feel they are valued, so we try to help them find a goal or a purpose. Anything that makes them feel like they’re contributing.”

These stress relievers serve as a reminder to us that the holidays are really about the people we love and making memories with them. When you’re worried that the craft for the class party is not perfect or that your cookies are slightly burned, take a deep breath and decide to simply be grateful and embrace the moment. That’s how memories are made.

Carole Spendley is the mother of four children ages 21, 18, 16 and 14. Now that her children are older, they enjoy the holidays with a mom who is less stressed about parties and decorating and more focused on enjoying the best present of all: precious time with her family.

Copyright ©2016 by Parent Today and Capital Region BOCES; Used with permission

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