The trouble with holiday traditions is that families rarely subtract any. We only add more. So as the requirements of the season pile up -- five kinds of cookies, cards to everyone in your universe, visits to every relative, the Holidazzle -- parents need to be aware that any stress they experience easily passes along to their children.

"Any time you get kids off of their routines and what is expected of them they can experience stress, even if it’s a fun thing for them," said Stephanie Combey, director of center based and clinical services at the St. David's Center for Child and Family Development in Minnetonka. "Often times, with holidays, we disrupt their routines at the same time parents are disrupted, so they're not managing as well either. … You see it happening in kids, maybe having meltdowns or maybe more somatic complaints such as problems with sleeping."

Of course, I didn't just interview Combey to express the obvious -- the holidays can be stressful, duh! -- but to offer some strategies for dealing with that stress. Some of her thoughts:

1) Keep some form of the old routine, whether it is nap times for preschoolers or familiar reading routines for school-aged children and favorite stuffed animals or toys when traveling. "Try to keep some things as consistent as possible."

2) Prevent the meltdown at the holiday dinner. "Make sure that every meal a child eats, there is something that is familiar for them. It doesn't have to be extravagant. Maybe its the baby carrots you have as part of a routine meal at home. The exotic holiday meals are often driven by adults. Kids often want kid food. They're not going to want to try oysters on the half shell."

 3) Give kids some slack. They might not want to kiss Aunt Edna from out east. "If those inlaws and aunts and uncles aren’t around the child very much, that child doesn't know them very well. The child's like, 'I don't really know who you are.' We kind of trounce all over boundaries for children in those kinds of settings ... Its a good time to help children learn some socially appropriate ways to greet somebody."

4) Parents, remember what meant most to your childhood Christmas. Focus on that. "It's all overwhelming. The thing that I would say for parents is to think back to their own favorite holidays and what made them special. Oftentimes they're going to remember a few of the special presents that they really, really wanted. But what else do they remember about those holidays that made them special." It could be something simple like the walk outside after dinner or singing carols together.

5) Give tweens chances to choose whether they want to take part in the old childish rituals. "It's that kind of push and pull -- the pull of 'I want to be an adult, but at the same time, wait a minute there's part of me that still wants to be a little kid.'"

6) Consider family desires as well as family traditions. "Going back in history, it used to be a big deal for a kid to get a stocking and get a piece of candy in that stocking. ... We often don't take away things. We just keep adding things to family traditions. So it can be difficult (to keep up)."

7) Set schedules with teens and returning college students ahead of time. "It's all about talking and negotiating ahead of time. Set out the days that are going to be day-long family events and the days when they are going to have more free time."


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