It was Christmas Eve morning, and our then 18-month-old son had a fever.
Tom and I both knew what those three digits meant— a trip to urgent care plus no Christmas Eve service, and most likely no Christmas day gathering. A high temperature and disappointment had rudely pushed celebration anticipation aside.
Life with kids is filled with unexpected moments that occur at the most inopportune time. Those times may include illness, inconvenience, or interruptions.
Holiday days are just like typical days; they are not immune to unmet expectations.
In 2020, holiday celebrations were not only interrupted—they came to a full stop. Last year family gatherings, church services, school parties, and celebrations with friends were put on hold. We grieved what we missed. This year, we are ready to celebrate with a fever-pitched expectancy.
This season of celebration has the potential to be consumed with great emotional stress for our kids and us. Expectations are high, big plans are being made, and schedules are enthusiastically being filled. It is possible our children might feel overwhelmed and could experience toxic stress.
Negative stress reveals itself in frequent meltdowns, clinginess, separation anxiety, irritability, physical complaints (stomach aches or headaches), bedwetting, withdrawal from friends or family, feelings of loneliness, nail-biting, sleep changes (too much, too little), panic attacks, or changes in appetite. It’s important for moms and dads to be aware of their child’s and their own stress level during the holidays.
If you observe some of these symptoms in your child, take time to have a conversation.
Explain that you’ve noticed a shift in their general mood and that holidays can be a stressful time for everyone.
Then check in with your loved one by asking some specific questions:
- How are you doing today?
- On a scale of 0-10, how much stress are you experiencing?
- What seems to be causing or triggering the stress?
- How can I help?
Inquiry is the beginning of helping. We can also be proactive and implement some hope-filled strategies that can reduce anxiety or stress in our kids and in ourselves.
- Reframe disappointment. “We may not be able to attend church but we can have our own service.”
- Remain realistic and flexible. Hold those plans loosely, schedule quiet time, and create margin so that a shift in plans is not a devastating experience.
- Reduce commitments. Stress increases as commitments increase. Scale back a bit to reduce some stress.
- Routine maintained. Do your best to keep your regular routine regarding meals, sleeping, and exercise.
- Relax with some simple family fun. Perhaps walk the neighborhood and look at the Christmas lights, play some favorite family games.
- Remember to be thankful. Gratefulness is a way to view life from another perspective. Giving and helping someone else stirs compassion and empathy.
- Reimplement special traditions omitted last year. Traditions provide a sense of stability and security.
- Respond instead of react. Keep your own emotions in check. And be OK with your child’s big emotions. Help them name their feeling then train them to solve the problem the emotion is indicating. Calm is contagious.
- Relieve stress with laughter. Laughter really is the best medicine. It has the power to change an attitude or a mood.
- Refocus and rejoice. Read the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2 then reenact the nativity story. Sing Christmas carols. Singing and acting positively affect the left and right brain.
Stress and holidays go together. We may not be able to eliminate it, but we can reduce it through awareness and preventative measures. By paying attention we can diagnose unhealthy holiday stress and take measures to address it.
Mental health needs attention and intervention just like physical health. Thankfully our son’s fever was easily diagnosed and treated. Antibiotics do wonders for ear infections. Our Christmas Eve plans needed only a slight readjustment.
That year, Christmas turned out just fine. Christmas will come, no matter our health or situation. Even though there were last-minute changes to be made, we were still able to celebrate a baby who came to be in an unexpected way, was birthed at an inconvenient time and broke through the heavens to interrupt life on planet earth.
Perhaps the first Christmas was a little stressful too.
[verse reference=”Luke 2:14“]Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.[/verse]
Lori Wildenberg is passionate about helping families build connections that last a lifetime. She is a licensed parent and family educator, national speaker, and award-winning author of 6 books including, The Messy Life of Parenting: Powerful and Practical Ways to Strengthen Family Connections. Lori would love to partner with you at your next event or retreat. To find out more go to loriwildenberg.com.