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Take the Stress Out of Santa Season

Children can get just as frazzled as their parents during the holidays, leading to insomnia, tummy aches, and temper tantrums. Here, eight easy, expert-recommended ways to ensure a happy, healthy holiday for the entire family.

Fall Back on Routine

"Kids crave structure because it's soothing when they can predict what's going to happen next," notes Martin. But impromptu gatherings and unexpected houseguests make sticking to every routine nearly impossible. "Instead, aim to keep at least some aspect of the routines your child is accustomed to," says Martin. For instance, if you can't tuck them in at their regular time, keep up at least one typical pre-bed ritual, like a bedtime story or a glass of warm milk. "This lends focus to the chaos," says Martin. "Kids know that no matter what else is going on, this is something they can count on."

Give Them Freedom to Frolic

"Overscheduling activities can lead to tense and anxious kids," notes Ruth Peters, Ph.D., a child and adolescent psychologist based in Clearwater, FL. And since stress over a prolonged period taxes the immune system, it may even result in physical ailments, such as colds or flu. "Set aside two hours each day for kids to be kids, and avoid scheduling back-to-back or even daily holiday activities," suggests Peters. Also, consider getting a babysitter for at least some of the adult events you know they won't enjoy — for example, the kind where they have to dress up or keep quiet for too long.

Let the Winter Games Begin

Experts estimate that kids burn about half as many calories in winter as they do in warmer months, due in large part to a drop in physical activity. But exercise is proved to help relieve stress: It unknots tense muscles and triggers the release of endorphins, mood-boosting brain chemicals. So bundle them up and send them outside for an afternoon of building snow forts or sledding, or set up a game of at-home bowling with empty plastic water bottles and a foam rubber ball.

Give Her an Escape Plan

If your child is particularly shy in big groups or around new people, agree on a secret code word or gesture she can use to quietly send you an SOS, such as tapping your thumb or taking your hand, suggests Martin. This way, she can tell you that she needs you without calling attention to herself and causing embarrassment. The best part: Just knowing that this option is available to her will put her at ease.

 

Originally published on November 13, 2006

 

Related content on redbookmag.com

 

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