December 8, 2022

Counselor’s Corner: Holiday Transitions & Downtime

After a busy start to the school year, we are all looking forward to the upcoming winter break! For staff, students, and parents, the holidays can bring a mix of much-needed downtime, along with extra stressors such as extended family dynamics, travel, and changes in routine. For some students, transitioning between the regular school routine and “holiday mode” (and then back again in January!) can impact their mood, frustration, withdrawal, sleep, self-regulation, and anxiety levels. 

Here are some tips for parents to help children navigate holiday transitions and ensure that downtime is restful and restorative: 

Tip #1: Give Advance Notice for Transitions & Events

  • Create a calendar for before and during the holidays. 
  • Kids love to see things visually. By helping them create a calendar of what’s coming up, they see more concretely what plans are for them and the family. 
  • When going to an event, tell your child in advance (or show them on your calendar as above) and tell them as much as you know about the event. How many people will be there? Who will be there that you know? Will they know any of the children or adults? 

Tip #2: Offer Opportunities for Unstructured Time

When the whole day is scheduled, kids miss out on those small moments full of fun and giggles. Add that unplanned family time, and allow them to do what they enjoy (this does not mean screen time!). This is a must for them to understand their interests and have fun without anyone seriously monitoring them. Again, no screens!

Tip #3: Welcome Boredom

When kids are structured and engaged for the full day, we cannot expect them to sit quietly for a moment and get bored. Often when kids say, “I’m bored”, we rush in and give them a new game or play some video for them to ignore the boredom. This does not help them develop their own resilience and coping skills for the times when they have to wait or do a task they don’t enjoy. The more kids learn to cope with their boredom on their own, the more creative they will be. 

Tip #4: Increase the Amount of Active Outside Play

Just as adults benefit from movement and exercise to help de-stress and reduce anxiety, so do children. Make plans for extra trips to the park, walk around the block after dinner or have a picnic and kick a ball around.

Tip #5: Preparing for Resuming School in January: Set up a Routine Ahead of Time

Although it can be tempting to ignore the inevitable, preparing your children to go back to school during the last week of the break can help support them through the transition. Writing out a schedule and posting it can be a helpful tool, so children can read or visually see what they need to do to get back into the groove. Some other ways to gradually change your children’s schedule include:

  • Moving bedtime up ½ hour each night
  • Moving morning wake-up times to ½ earlier each day
  • Regular bath or shower times each night
  • Limiting screen time in the evenings
  • Encouraging children to get dressed and eat breakfast shortly after getting up
  • Telling children when it would normally be time for them to go to school

As adults, we can make children feel more in control during times of transition by offering them opportunities to share their feelings and be heard if they are worried or stressed. We can prepare them for transitions by talking through what to expect and try not to let our own holiday stressors influence them. Remember, it is also important to give children a rest from structured activities and allow time for exploration and creativity, as well as connection time with family.

We wish you and your loved ones a relaxing and fun break and look forward to the New Year!