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Coping during the holidays when you have a child with anxiety

Psychologist Dr. Suzanne Chomycz shares strategies that can help with anxiety.
Sullivan article
By: Dr. Suzanne Chomycz, Psychologist

With the upcoming holiday season, it is important to be mindful that for many children, they can experience feelings of nervousness and anxiety during this time. For some children, the hustle and bustle of buying presents, attending parties, and/or travelling to meet family can be triggering. Children can feed off the stress of others, including parents. These are also changes to their normal routines; it may even mean less sleep and more pressure to engage in socially demanding activities. Other factors, like following COVID-19 safety protocols and experiencing less sunlight during winter months, can further increase anxiety.

If your child is anxious, you may notice that they are more frustrated, tired, or irritable. They may be complaining of headaches or a sore stomach; they may be wanting to avoid school or other activities as well. In addition, they may be expressing worries, racing thoughts, or difficulty sleeping.

Here are some strategies that can help:

  1. Talk to them about it and normalize their feelings. Explain that everyone experiences anxiety. In dangerous situations, anxiety can be helpful; however, in many situations, they are feeling anxiety without the presence of danger. Give them a reassuring statement, such as “It’s okay, we’ll get through it together”. You can also mention that in our bodies, anxiety and excitement can often feel the same. Ask questions to get more information, such as: What holiday situations are the most anxiety provoking? Is there anything they are looking forward to? What worries do they have?
  2. Try to stick to routines as much as possible, including their sleeping and eating schedules. Create a visual holiday schedule and give them as much advanced information about social events as possible so they know what to expect.
  3. Create an anti-anxiety kit filled with self-soothing strategies they can use when anxious.
  4. Break activities into manageable, smaller pieces. For instance, two parties in one day may be too much.
  5. Encourage them to unplug from technology and be more present in the moment.
  6. Manage your own stress during the holidays.
  7. Lastly, consider talking as a family with a psychotherapist, psychologist, or other mental health professional who has experience treating anxiety in children. You can get additional resources and coping strategies relevant for both parents and the child with anxiety.



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