The holidays are upon us! The holidays can be a joyous time and present some serious challenges. Many of us will be traveling and spending time with extended family (or making the decision not to attend family gatherings due to Omicron and the rising number of break-through COVID-19 cases), which can be both stressful and disappointing for a variety of reasons. Our kids are home for winter break without the much-needed structure of school, which can be especially difficult for parents that are working from home and may result in increased family conflict. Below are some helpful things to keep in mind when coping during the holidays.
Anxiety and stress
If your child struggles with speaking and/or anxiety in social situations, large family gatherings may be an overwhelming experience. It may also leave you feeling as though you are walking on eggshells and dreading family interactions.
- Treat these interactions as an opportunity to practice exposures! Identify 1-2 goals with your child and/or therapist in advance, such as making eye contact at least once with each family member or asking at least two questions when conversing with Aunt Mabel.
- If your child struggles to speak and is still making progress with their brave talking, be proactive and come up with a plan for what you might say to well-meaning (and chatty) Uncle Joey when he inevitably starts hurling rapid fire questions at your child.
- It can be as simple as saying, “Sometimes it’s hard for [INSERT CHILD’S NAME HERE] to talk to others, and we’re working on helping them to use their brave voice. Until they get more practice, they will give you a thumbs up or down for now to communicate with you! Thanks for understanding.”
- You can make a brief video recording of your child explaining their brave talking practice for family members, and have them play it for family members to allow them to hear your child using their brave voice!
- You can let family members know your situation in advance, by texting or calling before you or they arrive (depending on who is hosting) to manage expectations and set your family up for success
- Arm your child with some coping strategies in advance. Practice belly breathing. Make sure they have some putty in their pockets to play with or squeeze. Go off to a quiet place every once in a while just to take a break, brainstorm, celebrate. Socializing, unfortunately, can be hard work for anxious kids.
Grief and sadness
Family gatherings (or the holiday season itself) can highlight some sore spots for your child. Some key players may be missing from the family dinner, in order to play it safe throughout the pandemic. Your family may have suffered a recent loss, may be going through a separation/divorce, or may simply just not get along with one another. Whatever it may be, this may not be the happiest time of the year for some folks, and that’s ok.
- Practice radically accepting that family relationships or circumstances may not be what you want them to be, and some family members may not be capable of being who you need them to be right now. Some things are outside of our control. It may be painful to accept things as they are – not the same thing as approving of the situation or saying it’s ok, by the way – and it may help reduce your suffering to accept instead of fighting reality, by focusing on how things should be. Easier said than done, of course, so remember to also have compassion for yourself if this feels difficult. We are all doing the best we can at any given moment.
- Validate and accept your emotions. Allow yourself to experience your feelings, without judging them (e.g., “I shouldn’t be so upset about _____” or “I shouldn’t be enjoying myself this much, when my loved one isn’t here anymore”) or pushing them away. No feeling lasts forever. This, too, shall pass.
- If this feels too hard, use distraction to your advantage to get through the moment. Imagine putting your sadness or grief in a box, and put it on the shelf. Throw yourself fully into a conversation, or distract yourself with a holiday activity.
- Seek social support, or turn to your faith.
Know your limits.
- Consult with a mental health professional, if you aren’t already connected to a provider.
- Schedule an extra session with your therapist if needed. Make plans to call/FaceTime or meet up with a friend after that difficult family event, so you can decompress.
Wishing everyone peace this holiday season!