The year 2020 has brought parents one new challenge after another—from a pandemic to a statewide shutdown with no school or daycare, to social unrest and more. It’s exhausting without children—and for parents with kids of any age, there’s an added layer of stress.
Enter the holiday season—usually a joyful time to gather with family and friends, celebrating traditions. But the spread of COVID-19 and social distancing can make many of your annual holiday traditions at school, work and home extra challenging and stressful.
There are ways to take some control of the season as a parent, and make the holidays special and less stressful this year for your family. Try one or all of these tips from parenting experts.
1. Make a plan, don’t wait.
With how fast information and guidelines have been changing this year, it can be tempting to want to wait until a few days before your holidays to try and figure out how you’ll celebrate. But experts say waiting can actually cause MORE stress wondering about the unknown, so connect with extended family or friends and make a plan. Are you going to gather with masks outside for a quick gift exchange, do a recipe swap, set up a Zoom or just skip gathering this year? Make a decision—and be sure to set ground rules in advance that everyone is comfortable with, especially so the kids know what to expect. Make and share your plan today, and then you won’t have to stress about coming up with a way to celebrate the day before your actual holiday. Check out our tips for safely celebrating this holiday season.
2. Concentrate on one small task at a time.
If tackling everything on your holiday list as a family feels overwhelming, don’t! Wrapping presents, decorating the house, holiday baking and cooking, cards, finding gifts and more. It adds up fast and it’s a lot. As a family, with the kids’ input, decide on some things to take off your holiday plate this year. Maybe you do a virtual card instead of mailing cards or opt to purchase your baked goods from a small business rather than baking your own. Once you’ve decided on your “must-do’s”—tackle one small task each day so it doesn’t feel like too much come the weekend.
3. Keep bedtime and mealtime on a regular schedule.
With the days darker earlier, sugary treats all around, and schedules busier than ever, it’s easy to get off schedule. But parenting pros say kids thrive with routine, so stick to your schedule as best you can. Try hanging the schedule in the kitchen where the whole family can see it. To limit treats, consider building a reward dessert into the schedule. For example, if the kids eat their veggies and complete their schoolwork for the day—their reward can be choosing one treat from the stash rather than binging all day on sugary treats. Here are some simple swaps to lighten up your favorite holiday recipes.
4. Allow for flexibility.
While a schedule should be your baseline plan for each day, build some flexibility into it. For example, not every half hour needs to be engaging, festive activities. Allow for free reading time, free play, outdoor time to get in some physical activity and screen breaks. Focus on flexibility when it comes to holiday plans this year. If you know there is a chance a small family gathering could be cancelled because someone is exposed to COVID-19 or gets the flu, have a back-up plan in mind for your own immediate household. Make it special with a holiday scavenger hunt or game night. Try and stay positive when changes come your family’s way, teaching your kids resilience and adaptability to make the best of each situation will only benefit them in the long run.
5. Focus on spending time as a family.
With a break in school and work schedules, the most important thing is spending some quality time together. Kids love to help with the holiday to do list: baking cookies, decorating and sending cards, decorating the house or outside. Get them involved and turn holiday chores into festive time together.
6. Make new traditions.
If the kids are bummed about missing the crowds at the mall or the big parties, come up with some new traditions together. Turn your celebrations virtual with fun costumes on a group Zoom party or go on a holiday light parade with hot cocoa. Set up a virtual Christmas movie watch party with your kids’ friends in lieu of an in-person party or sleepover. Make festive crafts to gift to neighbors who may be alone this season, or paint rocks with fun and uplifting messages of holiday hope to leave around the neighborhood for others to discover on their walks.
7. Volunteer as a family.
One way to turn negative feelings about your holiday season around is to find ways to help in your community. This is a great lesson for the kids to learn during the holidays when gifts may be piling up for them. There are so many ideas of things you can do to help others in need. Have your children pick a cause close to their heart that they’d like to donate to. Make seniors you know who might be extra lonely feel special with these safe and thoughtful ideas. Or, get involved in local relief efforts. Help out at a food bank, decorate cards for health care workers on the front lines, or try one of these other safe and helpful ideas.
8. Practice gratitude.
It can be easy to get out of grief mode this year, especially during the holidays. But pediatric mental health experts recommend reframing conversations with your kids. For example—change your “I have to” statements to “I get to.” Example: “We have to celebrate with our family on Zoom this year” to “We’re so lucky that we get to see all of our family healthy and doing well on Zoom this year, while other families may be missing loved ones.” Remind the kids that many people are experiencing job loss or food shortages, a parent or caregiver with health issues, or they could be grieving the loss of a loved one. It’s also a good time to show gratitude to frontline workers such as police, firefighters, doctors, nurses, or grocery store and restaurant workers with cards or words of encouragement. Other ideas for expressing gratitude – start a holiday gratitude jar or thankfulness tree — then read what you’re thankful for on New Year’s Eve as you ring in 2021.
9. Stick to a budget.
A big stressor of the holiday season can be finances. With job losses or wage cuts in 2020, your holiday budget may be tight this year. The good news is, there are lots of ways to cut back on spending and still give thoughtful gifts. Try these fun ideas and get the kids involved. In the spirit of starting new traditions with the family, this may be the year to move your gift-giving for the little ones to follow the rule of 5. Instead of spending tons of money on a bunch of random presents, limit it to just 5 simple things:
- 1 gift they want
- 1 gift they need
- 1 gift they wear
- 1 gift they read
- 1 gift they don’t know they want, but you do! (or,1 gift that’s homemade if you’re crafty)
Some people even limit it to the 4-gift rule and stick to the first 4 on the list. Many parents who practice this say they’re surprised by how much the kids love it.
10. Practice and model self-care.
Right now, it can feel like there is no point in exercising or eating healthy or making time for mental health. But it’s important to model self-care for your kids. Remember, they’re taking your lead on how you respond to the many challenges of this year. Try these five easy tips from our health coach Shelly Faber to keep up a healthy lifestyle. Or these tips for staying mentally fit. After all, there is a reason there is an age-old parenting tip: you can’t care for others if you don’t take care of yourself first.
11. Give the kids a voice.
Little kids have had to take a lot in this year—a scary pandemic, and so many changes at school and at home. The holidays are no different. Let them express disappointment. It’s normal and healthy to share why they are bummed about the changes this year. Give them time and space to express those frustrations, and then turn the sad attitude into action using some of the tips above. Let them choose the activities, charities or focus of how you celebrate your holiday season so they feel some sense of control. Everyone wants to be heard, and kids are no different.
12. Ask for help.
This year is tough for EVERYONE and if you need help, it’s more than ok to ask. If you’re not getting what you need from fellow parents or friends, it may be time for some additional help. Check with your health plan to see which resources are available.
For example, Priority Health provides members with information like what kind of help is available, what your plan will cover and how to find counselors or behavioral health care providers to meet your needs. An on-staff behavioral health team is available to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call the number on the back of your member ID card (your call is completely confidential) or log into your online account.
Priority Health has also partnered with a digital health specialist to offer free access to mental wellness resources specifically focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more here. And if you’re a Priority Health member, $0 cost share for behavioral health virtual visits are being offered to members through December 31, 2020. Learn more here. Not a Priority Health member? Try one of the free or low cost options for mental health here.
Whatever tools or tips you use to help navigate this stressful holiday season, remember that kids (and grown-ups, too) love the holidays. Even with restrictions, there are still new, fun activities to engage in this year. They’ll enjoy whatever new ways you come up with to make it special. Let stressful things go, try some new traditions and above all—make time for your own mental and physical health so you can start 2021 off feeling refreshed and ready for a new year.