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Q: We tend to believe that the holidays are a magical time for children and that the stress of it all is only felt by the adults. However, given the heightened emotions from the past 18 months of a pandemic, our kids are under stress, as well. What are the signs to look for, and how can we help them?
A: Even without a pandemic, holiday events can be stressful for children. Family members who haven't seen the children for a while tend to focus a lot of attention on them, comment on how they've grown and changed, or hug and kiss them without asking. Even the change in activity level and managing multiple conversations and relationships can cause concern for kids.
Additionally, there may be pressure to get dressed up, take perfect family pictures, and be in a good mood for meals and events when that may not be how they are feeling inside.
"When you add in the fear of the virus still circulating in our communities, changes in school routines or even the death of a loved one, this holiday season may be particularly challenging for kids, and we should be sensitive to their feelings and needs," says Lisa Hardesty, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic Health System psychologist. "Remember that stress can be a natural and automatic physical, mental and emotional response to challenging events, and most children don't yet have the coping skills to navigate through on their own."
Some signs that children are stressed may include emotional outbursts, increased irritability, trouble sleeping, withdrawal from others, struggles in school, frequent complaints of headaches or stomach aches, and increased defiance.
"Irritability and anger are common signs a child is overwhelmed because they are trying to get out of a situation that is causing them discomfort," says Dr. Hardesty.
Here are some tips for helping your child manage stress:
Identify potential “pitfalls” and reduce barriers to success. For instance, make sure to promote optimal sleep and nutrition prior to new holiday experiences, and recognize that the level of activity and noise may be triggers for most children.
Children need help putting words to the complicated feelings they are experiencing. Depending on the age of the child, this may involve coloring or painting, or describing the emotions they are experiencing.
Mayo Clinic Health System consists of clinics, hospitals and other facilities that serve the health care needs of people in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based providers, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive highest-quality physical and virtual health care close to home.
For the safety of its patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was either recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in a nonpatient care area where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.
Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date.
For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.
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