December 19, 2012

Holiday tips from Boonshoft School of Medicine

Parents can help children cope with holiday stress

Girl in Santa hatDAYTON—The holidays can be a stressful time for children. In addition to cabin fever, the holidays can be even more stressful because of death, divorce or military deployment.

Perhaps a child’s grandmother took him or her to see a train display or nativity scene every year. But the grandmother died, and the child might find the change in tradition difficult. Perhaps a child’s parents always took him or her to the holiday religious service, but now they are divorced. Perhaps a child’s father always placed the star on the Christmas tree. But this year, he is deployed overseas.

“The holiday season is a time of traditions,” said Ryan Mast, D.O., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. “The breaking of holiday traditions can be disconcerting and disappointing to children.”

Mast encourages parents to think about stress reducers throughout the year. Stress reducers include art, coloring for younger children, reading, playing outside, having friends over for brief interactions and reminiscing about the positive aspects of family traditions. Teaching children about breathing exercises is another way to reduce stress.

Mast tells parents that they should help children understand that changes will be made to the traditions because of death, divorce or deployment and develop new family traditions.

“Parents may consider telling their children that they know the holidays can be a lot of fun, but they also can be overwhelming, stressful, confusing and sad. They need to let their children know that they are here to listen if their children want to talk about anything,” Mast said. “Leaving the lines of communication open is key.”

Mast advises his patients to give thanks for the positive people and blessings in their lives even when times are difficult. “Dwelling only on the negative can have significant consequences both on mental and physical health,” he said.