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Children, Holidays and Behavior Problems

The children are exhausted but rambunctious from a day spent cooped up driving across country. Meals have been a lot of rich, fatty foods consumed on the go. Everyone is over stimulated from being greeted by a bunch of excited relatives of all ages. Now no one can fall asleep because of the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells of a new place. Sound like a familiar holiday scenario? It is also a recipe for behavior problems, particularly in younger children or in children with sensitive, reactive, and inflexible temperaments.

The Disconnect

Parents want to make happy holiday memories with their children, but many holiday traditions are stressful for children. Holiday time usually means a complete change in a child's routine. School is often out, and there is no predictable rhythm to the day. Meals, maps, and bedtime are all disrupted as relatives travel and gather together. Activities involve a lot of adult socializing and conversation, and outdoor weather can prevent needed movement and space for children to "let off steam."

What You Can Expect

Don't be surprised if children are having some difficulties with naughty behavior during holiday celebrations. Even fairly placid and agreeable children can become cranky, weepy, withdrawn, argumentative, defiant, or aggressive due to the stress and changes associated with the holidays. Parents love to see children starry-eyed with excitement, but there is a fine line between healthy excitement and disruptive over stimulation. When that line is crossed and your child shows signs of "melting down," be prepared to intervene quickly to help the child calm down and get back in control.

Happy Kids, Happy Parents

Parents need to be flexible when making holiday plans for children. Perhaps others can travel to where the children are, rather than requiring the children to travel. If the children must do the traveling, try to allow enough time for two or more breaks during the day, when the children can get out of a moving vehicle to stretch and play. Take advantage of parks and playgrounds along your route. Many airports now offer indoor play areas for children as well.

Once arrived at your destination, give children the opportunity to explore their new surroundings before having to get dressed up or participate in a formal activity. As with any social occasion combining children and adults, be prepared for a familiar adult to take a child away from the larger group for one-on-one, calming down time if needed. Make sure you have access to appropriate clothing for local weather, and take the children outside for an extended period of play each day during your visit.

Work with your hosts or other relatives to provide indoor activities as well. A wellplanned period of making arts and crafts or playing a simple board game can help everyone have a smoother and more enjoyable day. Try not to change a child's diet too much, in order to prevent tummy aches or other types of gastric distress, and do the best you can to maintain a regular bedtime for the children throughout your stay.

When the adults work together and plan for the children's needs in advance, everyone's behavior and mood will stay more positive, allowing for a truly memorable holiday time.

How to Choose the Best Provider for You

First, see our steps to seeking mental health care. If you're not sure which type of mental health provider to see, Dean's Behavioral Health Consultants can assist you. Our consultants are licensed mental health professionals.

They can talk to you about your concern, and help you choose an appropriate mental health provider at Dean or in the community.

For assistance, call one of the following Dean psychiatry departments and ask to speak to a Behavioral Health Consultant:

Improving Quality of Life

Learn about Dean's Oncology Support Services, which focus on helping individuals and families cope with many aspects of cancer.

Support groups and other services are available.

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If you're worried about memory loss in yourself or a family member, learn about the services of the Memory Assessment Program.