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SPOTLIGHT
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Understand implications of holidays before they even arrive

Published on -2/18/2013, 7:45 AM

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This is the final article in a series about holiday stress.

Q: What are more coping skills for handling post-holiday stress?

A: A unique strategy for post-holiday stress is to plan stress management for after the holidays as part of planning for the holidays. Incorporating post-holiday plans into holiday planning can avoid a lot of the pitfalls that come after holidays when families are unprepared to handle stress and depression. Family conversations are the key to fulfilling this goal. Family planning meetings should cover a wide range of topics and should include children of all ages. Children younger than 3 or 4 might or might not have anything to say, but still should be included.

Besides discussing the overall plans for the holidays, parents need to orient the children to their expectations for the family, themselves and the children. These discussions should lay out the ground rules and the realities of the family finances. Parents often tend to avoid the limitations and responsibilities for the children because they want to be the "good guys." However, communicating tasks and chores clearly ahead of time and getting the children to make commitments to these responsibilities will reduce later resistance.

If children understand part of the holidays are taking down and putting away decorations and cleaning the house, they will be more willing to help. Parents have to accept the children might be grumbling about the tasks. If honest with themselves, parents are not thrilled with post-holiday chores either. Parents can balance the bad with the good by also presenting in family discussions plans for fun activities for the children as rewards for helping with family chores. These earned privileges can include slumber parties, skate parties, pizza parties, family movie nights at home or evenings at the mall with friends.

Making plans for handling the blues after the holidays can be integrated with the rewards for family chores. However, there also are other ways to handle post-holiday stress. Families can plan their next events -- a weekend trip, a special program out of town, meeting friends for a weekend somewhere or the next family vacation. One of the most valuable gifts to children is to remind them about the real meaning of holidays. In America today, commercialism masks any deeper significance of holidays, even in the current economic hard times.

An effective way to manage post-holiday depression is to teach children doing for and giving to others is a great way to feel good after the holiday excitement has passed. Loneliness and depression after the holidays can be countered with volunteer activities for all family members. Sharing charitable activities with their children is a wonderful way for parents to demonstrate the value of giving.

Random acts of kindness also can lift spirits. Refraining from road rage, restraining oneself from retaliating with negative relatives and holding one's temper when someone drives 10 miles an hour after pushing into the front of a line of traffic are examples of taking the higher road. All these actions can make people feel good and are especially applicable after the holidays when people are down and out.

There are two important concepts about control that help deal with the post-holiday blues. First is the ability to choose one's reactions. Adults might not think of this option because they know they cannot control the behavior of others. However, people can choose how they respond. If holiday interactions with relatives were strained and tense, families need to restore good feelings by doing things they like and spending time in positive relationships.

The second concept about control is just to move on, rather than continuing to obsess about unpleasant holiday gatherings. No one can change the past and dwelling on it accomplishes nothing except keeping people stirred up. One way to dissipate post-holiday stress is to share stories with friends about holiday mishaps and share a good laugh together.

One of the greatest stresses for parents after holidays is getting the children settled into the school routine. Bedtimes, morning routines and homework are the most common stressors. First, parents should confront the issues of bedtimes. Resistance will decrease significantly about the second morning the kids have to get up early enough for school. Reviewing the use of bathrooms, clarifying expectations for breakfast routines, and having school clothes picked out and lunches made the night before will help morning chaos.

Homework routines are more difficult to establish. If re-establishing these habits, the task is easier. By and large the best strategies seem to be snacks after school, homework before or after supper, and no technology until homework is done. Included in technology are cellphones, video games, television and the Internet. Parents have to supervise these plans, especially for elementary school-age children and sometimes for middle school children.

The skills to handle post-holiday stress basically are the same as those for dealing effectively with holidays. These are good time-management skills, good planning and organizational skills, realistic expectations, realistic budgets and good health habits, especially self-control. Successful post-holidays don't just happen. They are created.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.

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