BY JOE DORMAN
The holidays are often a time to rejoice, but some do not share the joyful feelings of the season. The shorter days of winter can bring a gloomy mood and the hype of the holidays can set unrealistic expectations, especially for youngsters.
Children may feel sad or anxious around December for many reasons, including added stress from splitting time between divorced parents, coping with the recent loss of a loved one, or issues surrounding school.
Adults need to be attentive to signs displayed by children. It is also important for grown-ups to be cognizant of how their own stressful actions might impact youngsters.
To help kids cope with this sadness, Dr. Elizabeth McCauley, interim director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department at Seattle Children’s Hospital, has offered advice on ways to lessen holiday stress.
Dr. McCauley advised adult family members to include children in planning activities, to help set realistic expectations for holiday events. Kids can become disappointed when things do not live up to what they’ve imagined, which can trigger sadness. Involving the kids in the planning can help manage their expectations.
She also encouraged adults to establish goals that fit budgetary constraints. Open conversations about the hype of the season versus reality are healthy. Acknowledge if the family is not able to take a special trip or purchase certain gifts.
Dr. McCauley also recommended instituting some structure into the season by making advance plans.
Transitioning from school to the break can be difficult for children who are used to a routine. Structure is preferable for many and often reduces stress. Knowing what is planned lets youngsters understand what will be happening and be prepared. Planning things they enjoy also reduces their stress.
Depression is a problem that many individuals face at this time of year, including young people. Depression is the most common mental health problem in the U.S., according to McCauley. Recent reports indicate that depression affects 17 million people of all ages, races and economic backgrounds annually. As many as one in every 33 children may have depression; in teens, that number may be as high as one in eight.
Depression can occur for many reasons – family conflict, school pressures, or problems with peers. For parents, it’s important to be able to differentiate when a child is feeling a little blue versus experiencing depression.
Signs and symptoms of depression in children and teens include: sadness or feeling irritable, loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, eating too much or too little, weight changes, sleeping too much or too little, feeling tired a lot, feeling guilty, trouble thinking or paying attention, or suicidal thoughts or behavior.
The best advice for overcoming the seasonal blues is to spend time talking with and listening to kids. Anticipating their potential struggles can help make the holiday season enjoyable for the children, as well as the rest of the family.
May this season be bright for all of you from everyone at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy!
– Joe Dorman is CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, whose mission is creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety and well-being of Oklahoma’s children