Avoiding Holiday Overwhelm

Now we are into December, and the holiday season is officially underway.  How can you help you and your quirky kids focus on the enjoyment and minimize the overwhelm that can come with this time of year?

Self Care

The first step begins with parents because if you run out of positive energy, you have nothing to give your children.  This might mean different things for different people.  In general, I recommend that people keep doing all the things they normally do to help themselves manage stress.  If you exercise a few times a week, stick with it.  This is when you need it most.  If you need eight or more hours of sleep a night (as I do), make that a priority.  The same goes for regular meals, and so forth.  When you try to keep up your healthy habits, you will set a good example, and likely you will set a good framework for your family.

Maintain Children’s Routines

Most children with ADHD, learning disabilities or Asperger Syndrome do best when they live in a predictable routine.  The holidays are full of special occasions that interfere with the routine.  Of course, you will want to make some choices—don’t be a total Grinch about this, but consider what changes from routine your child can handle.  Mix the joy with the routine.  This will help avoid meltdowns due to being over-tired or over-stimulated.

First and foremost routine for children means regular meals and enough sleep.  Along with that go time for homework and time to relax at home.  Like adults many children really need some down time.  You probably know what that looks like for your child.  It could be time watching television or playing a video game.  For others it could be time to read or just to play quietly.  Be aware that if these times disappear for days on end, you could be headed for a meltdown.

Let Your Children in on the Plans

Once you make some decisions about changes in routine, be sure to let your children know.  For instance, you’ve decided that the whole family will go to your middle school child’s chorus concert, and this means that the fifth grader will miss his guitar lesson.  Be sure he is in on the plan.  And if he objects, consider some way to sweeten the deal for him.  Some children get anxious about changes in routine even when they very much want to go to the special event. As much as possible let your children know ahead of time about changes to routine so that they have time to and you know how they feel about  the circumstances.

Find Out What’s Important

I have been amazed at how very young children will remember events from a year ago very clearly.  They may believe that what they remember is the essence of the holiday.  It is likely that you do not remember these details.  It’s worth finding out what your children look forward to in the holiday.  Is it a special food you make or a concert you go to?  Perhaps it is a gathering with extended family.  You might find out that one child has his heart set on an event that won’t happen this year:  Uncle Charlie is going to your cousins’ for the holiday.  You can’t change Uncle Charlie’s plans, but it will help if your child knows ahead of time that he won’t see him this year.


The best holidays happen when all can join in happily.  This can mean skipping a community event in order to have time home as a family.  After all, aren’t we all looking for moments of connection at the holidays?  If you program for it, it is more likely to happen.


Click here to sign up for my newsletter, Parents’ Corner, and receive my free report, “Living With and Loving Your Disorganized, Impulsive, Forgetful, Yet Delightful, Funny Child.”


Photo credit:  strawberryindigo on Flickr


4 Responses to “Avoiding Holiday Overwhelm”
  1. Carolyn,

    We are struggling with the routine a bit as well. Fortunately, we’ve been able to build in enough recovery time that things have stayed pretty stable. But I am talking your words to heart about checking in with myself about what I need in terms of my own routine. Thanks for the helpful practical words.


  2. JoAnn Jordan says:

    Routine is important but often by necessity (travel, family gatherings) it goes out the door during the holidays. Your practical words will help limit the meltdowns.

  3. dr.cstone says:

    I think I’ve been a little distracted by the holiday (and recent tragedy) myself, judging by how long it’s taken me to respond. Do take care of yourself and enjoy your family and the holiday!

  4. dr.cstone says:

    Hi JoAnn,
    I sure hope that I can help people avoid a few meltdowns. You’re right–holiday travel or relatives coming to visit definitely change the routine. Wishing you a joyful holiday.