Melissa McKenna 

The holiday season can bring a mix of emotions. For many, the winter holidays mean quality time with family, a break from school or work, and a chance to recharge. This time is often associated with joy, festivity, love, and warm feelings. However, for others the holidays may bring different emotions—feelings of stress, grief, loneliness, or sadness. This time of year can be hard on our mental health.   

Children can often find the change in routine and break from school overwhelming. The excitement of gift-giving, late nights, the sugar rush, and time around friends and family can add to this. BCSS Youth has assembled some tips to manage the stress of the holidays, and a list of resources that are available throughout the season.   

Recognize that holidays can be stressful for all ages  

Check in with your child or teen and leave communication channels open for you to talk about the feelings that this time of year can bring. Encourage your children to talk to you or a trusted loved one if they are feeling lonely or sad. Often, time spent with others can help reduce these feelings. 

Set boundaries  

Boundary setting can be different for everyone. Think about what you are comfortable with and talk with your children about what boundaries they might want to set. Do they need alone time when things are chaotic? Would they prefer not to hug their aunts and uncles that visit? Are there certain topics they’d rather were not discussed, or stories they don’t want shared? Having these discussions in advance can make it easier for you to support your child in setting firm, healthy boundaries.   

Create plans and structure   

Talk with your children about what they’d like to do over the winter holidays. What are their priorities? If there are events or things that they’ll be attending or taking part in, prepare them in advance. While the school routine may be on a temporary hiatus, you can help provide structure for your family by creating plans and a schedule.   

Also, feel free to add ‘down-time’ into the calendar! With the holiday season being a busy time for many families, it’s important for our mental health to have time to re-charge and practice self-care.   

Set realistic expectations  

Regardless of whether you celebrate Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other holidays, you’re probably still feeling the overwhelming push of consumerism. As many households are feeling the financial strain of the current economy, holiday budgets are being paid closer attention.   

Talking with your children about their wish lists in advance can help reduce any potential disappointment. Talk about the value of experiences and memories over material items. If your child’s heart is set on something that’s out of your budget, let them know that while it sounds very cool, you don’t think it’ll be showing up this year.   

Have discussions with your family about non-material things you are grateful for. Whether it’s the meal you’re eating, the time you’ve spent together, or a funny joke shared by a loved one, start conversations with your children about recognizing all the things that you already have in your lives.  

Prepare (and prevent) the post-holiday blues  

The holiday season can be a boost of energy for many people. The increased excitement, time spent with others, food, sugar, late nights, and less structure can make the return to school hard on children. Recognizing this and trying to keep some structure can reduce the post-holiday crash.   

Remind your child about things in the new year they can look forward to. Are they excited to start sports or arts programs again? Have they missed their classmates over the holidays? Is there a project they’re working on in school? Discussing the positives of returning to the school routine can be a way to keep communication open and help reduce the post-holiday blues. 

Lastly, it’s important to understand that while these tips will help you keep your mental health in check during the holidays, this is by no way an exhaustive list, especially if you, or a loved one lives with a serious mental illness. Mental health care is different from mental illness treatment. If you or a loved one needs help for a mental illness, here are a list of resources:  

BCSS Youth provides programs and workshops to children and youth between the ages of 8-18.

If you’d like to learn more about our programs: click here