by Stacy Mosel, LMSW
As the holiday season approaches, most people start to feel a sense of excitement and anticipation. Although the time from Thanksgiving until New Years can also feel hectic and frenzied, the holidays are a magical time of year, when everything seems a bit more joyous and hopeful as a sense of festivity permeates the air. The holiday season can be especially wondrous for those with children, but if your child struggles with hyperactivity or anxiety, it can also be a more challenging and anxiety-provoking time for the whole family.
How can you help your child manage their holiday anxiety and hyperactivity while maximizing family time and cheer? Here are a few tips to help your child relax and enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.
General Holiday Tips
Many changes take place during the holidays that affect your child’s routine and diet, which can be disruptive and lead to increased hyperactivity and anxiety. Talk about these changes with your child in advance, explaining, for example, when and where guests will be arriving and staying. Set up a schedule so that everyone knows what to expect; write it down on a whiteboard and hang it up in the kitchen or another place where everyone can easily see it.
Although you are likely to feel busier and more wound up as well, it’s also important to adhere to your child’s regular routine as much as possible to provide a sense of structure and help your child relax. Make sure your child gets enough sleep and sticks to their usual sleep schedule.
When holiday treats start getting passed around at school (and at home), remember that sugar can negatively impact your child’s behavior. Consider sprinkling in a few alternatives to your usual sugar-filled holiday snacks.
Also, remember that you don’t have to attend every holiday event you’re invited to. Too much socialization can be overstimulating for an anxious or hyperactive child. There might be certain activities that you can’t avoid, like family dinners, but you can consider skipping some community events or neighborhood gatherings.
Mindfulness and relaxation are part of Brillia’s five pillars (which also includes proper nutrition, adequate sleep, controlled screen time and taking Brillia). If your child feels overwhelmed or stressed out, encourage them to engage in self-control techniques, such as mindful breathing or simple relaxing yoga stretches. Implement and rehearse the “stop, relax and think” routine, which involves stopping what they are doing when they feel hyper or anxious, taking a few deep breaths and figuring out what’s bothering them at the moment.
Turkey, stuffing and time spent together giving thanks—that’s what Thanksgiving is all about, right? But sometimes, your anxious or hyperactive child might be so wound up with excitement that you feel ready to throw in the towel and order a pizza. Implementing a Thanksgiving tradition that allows your child to help out and take an active role in the festivities can channel their excitement and help both you and your guests enjoy the feast.
Ask your child to help with decorating, or consider asking them to help by making homemade decorations. You can also print out free Thanksgiving coloring pages for your child to color in and hang up around the home.
Involving your child with certain easy cooking tasks such as mashing potatoes, rinsing off vegetables or measuring flour and other ingredients can also be a fun way for them to participate. Or you can ask your child to set the table or fold napkins. Another helpful suggestion is to sign up for a morning Turkey Trot, which you can easily find online. Whatever method best suits you, keeping your hyperactive child in motion can help disperse some of that extra energy. Then, when it’s time to gather to eat, your child will feel relaxed and ready to more calmly interact with your guests.
The eight-day festival of lights should be a special and commemorative time enjoyed with family and loved ones, but making it through eight nights of celebration can be disruptive to your little one’s routine. By taking your child’s sensitivities into account, you can reduce their anxiety and hyperactivity and make Hanukkah a sensory-friendly event that your entire family will enjoy. Consider making some of these ideas a yearly tradition that your child can eagerly anticipate.
Ask your child to chip in and help clean the house (such as vacuuming) as you prepare for the first night of the holiday. This can help them stay active and release anxiety while giving you a helping hand.
Making your own dreidels is another fun activity the whole family can enjoy. You can use Playdoh or Model Magic and roll out and shape your own dreidels, or print out this design on hard stock or photo paper. Have your child cut out the design with safety scissors and tape it together.
Presents and candy canes and Santa are just a part of the magic of Christmas. While the anticipation of gifts and the arrival of guests can cause your child to feel increased stress and anxiety, you can soothe your child and help them relax by involving them in Christmas planning. Make homemade placements by asking your child to draw and color in Christmas pictures on 11x17 cardboard. (You’ll want to laminate the placement once it’s finished to ensure durability and longevity).
Ask your child if there’s a special dish they might like you to make for the holiday meal (and if it’s appropriate, ask them to help you prepare it). Or ask your child to help with gift wrapping, even if it’s just cutting tape with safety scissors or measuring out wrapping paper.
Helping others in need during the Christmas season is a way to teach your child what it means to give to those who are less fortunate. It can also help reduce their anxiety by shifting their thoughts and focus outward. You might consider “adopting” a family at your local church and buying them presents, which you can wrap together with your child.
Once the initial excitement of opening presents is over, your child might easily become bored and restless. Having a fidget toy (such as a stress ball or a Rubik’s cube) is an easily transportable way to release excess energy and help prevent outbursts or a build-up of anxiety and hyperactivity. If you’re away from home, bring along a comfort or anti-anxiety kit packed with small, soothing items, such as a favorite blankie, lavender essential oil, a well-loved teddy bear and Brillia to help ease your child’s anxiety and hyperactivity.
New Year’s Eve
You might think it’s fun for everyone to stay up until midnight and ring in the New Year, but staying up late can disrupt your little one’s bedtime routine. Instead, try to stick to the usual bedtime and celebrate by having a special dinner, an earlier countdown (who says you can’t countdown a little earlier?) and a toast with sparkling apple cider. Or consider having a slumber party with friends who also have children. You can put the kids to bed by 9 or 10 PM without missing out on your own celebration.
Stacy Mosel, LMSW is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast, and musician. She received a Bachelor's degree in Music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1999 and a Master of Social Work from New York University in 2002. She has had extensive training in child and family therapy and the identification and treatment of mental health disorders.