The holidays are a stressful time of year. Many families will be juggling more than just the normal stress of challenging relatives, increased spending and traveling this holiday season, with one in five Ontario children and youth suffering from mental health issues and over half of Ontario parents having had concerns over their child’s anxiety. And, many of these families are waiting to access mental health services or facing issues navigating the system.
Whether you have a child with mental health or behaviour issues or not, all families can use coping tips as they deal with the hectic holiday season. Here is some expert advice from Children’s Mental Health Ontario*.
Holiday Coping Tips for Families:
- Plan your schedule in advance. Allow your child the prep time to prepare for what will happen before an event, party or outing. Share with them who will be at each event, where you are going and try to answer all their questions. Discuss what situations may arise and come up with a plan that will work for all of you. If your child is a teenager, you can discuss and negotiate what the plan will be.
- Make sure everyone is eating and sleeping. Especially for your younger children, try not to vary too widely from meal times and sleeping routines. This may not be plausible all the time. But do your best. For teenagers, try to ensure they go to sleep and wake up at reasonable hours, it’s not a school day, but sleeping until 2pm and going to bed at 3 am isn’t recommended.
- Have realistic expectations. Things don’t need to go perfectly, adjust where needed. For example, does it make more sense for your family to spend one hour at the party rather than five hours?
- Communicate openly about feelings with your child. Discuss with them how they are feeling, or what’s making them anxious. Be available throughout any outings or parties so they know they can come to you for support if they need it. A little one-on-one time throughout the holidays will help you get a better sense of how your child is feeling.
- Find a quiet place and plan ahead for boredom. Find a spot during a holiday activity or party where your child (or you) can go for a break. Don’t force your child to interact with other kids or adults if they don’t want to. Let them have that time on their own to regroup. If your child is young, bring books or a bag of special toys. If your teenager needs to decompress with a game on their phone, that’s ok. Make sure to check in periodically with how they are doing to make sure everyone is still enjoying the activity, or if maybe some quiet time is needed.
- Don’t worry about other people’s judgments. People may ask insensitive questions or make comments about your child’s behaviour. Sometimes they are trying to be rude, other times, they’re just trying to understand. Have a quick sentence or two ready that explains your child’s issues. This will help you stay calm and to keep from overreacting.
- Take care of you. The holidays can be a stressful and anxious time for parents and caregivers too. Make sure that you are eating, sleeping and enjoying the holidays as well. Maintain healthy boundaries. Take time when you need it, don’t feel guilty saying no when you need to. Do what is best for you and your family.
- If you think your child might need more support than you can provide, you can contact The Phoenix Centre or attend one of our Walk in Clinics. For more information, contact information or our Walk in Schedule go to www.phoenixctr.com. You can also go to CMHO.org to find a child and youth centre near you. If your child is in a crisis, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department directly.
*with clinical advice provided by Children First, Crossroads Children’s Centre and Central Toronto Youth Services.