Navigating Holiday Breaks

family using face time after holiday dinner

When school is out of session, it can be both a fun and challenging time for families. This year, holiday breaks may look even more different and come with unique challenges and uncertainty. Here are some tips for navigating the breaks and making the most of this time with your family.

Routines help everyone know what to expect, which creates a sense of comfort and security. Even though certain things may change day to day, try to keep some routines the same:

  • Try to keep bedtimes and wake times similar to when school is in session to make the end of a break easier on everyone.
  • Maintain expectations around the house. A break from school doesn’t have to mean a break from responsibilities. Whether it’s having them take out the garbage, walk the dog or clean their room, try to be consistent.

During periods of transition and uncertainty, it’s especially important that we all practice taking care of our bodies and minds to help keep us healthy and strong. Here are some ideas for the whole family!

  • Get rest. Getting enough quality sleep can improve mood, behavior and overall health. Make it a routine for everyone to power down an hour before bedtime and leave electronics out of the bedroom.
  • Eat smarter, drink water. We all need to fuel our bodies to fuel our minds. Drinking water, eating 3 balanced meals and eating 2 to 3 well-rounded snacks at consistent times each day can help everyone feel their best.
  • Be active. Being out of school (or work) may mean less structure, but that doesn’t have to mean sitting still all day. Get your family moving and boost everyone’s mood by taking a short walk around the block, having a 5-minute dance party or playing a game of basketball.
  • Set limits on screen time. Try to prioritize self-care and interacting with family and friends rather than screen time. You might even find less screen time improves your mood and decreases your stress!

The holidays can bring up different feelings for everyone, and breaks from school can cause additional stress. That’s why this is a good opportunity for the whole family to reset and practice managing stress by using healthy coping skills. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Acknowledge and express feelings. Instead of ignoring our feelings, it’s helpful to try to acknowledge how we feel and find healthy ways to express it. Let your family know it’s normal and OK to feel whatever they feel (including yourself), and encourage everyone to practice expressing feelings through art, journaling, talking to each other, etc.
  • Slow down and breathe. Calm your body and mind by slowly breathing in through your nose and exhaling out through your mouth. Do this at any point throughout the day, whenever you need to reset or relax.
  • Be mindful and present. Use your senses to shift your focus to the present moment and help everyone be together in the “here and now.” If you are taking a walk outside, encourage everyone to notice what they can see, touch, hear and smell. Or, during a family meal, encourage everyone to take a moment to notice what they see or what they can smell or taste.
  • Set boundaries. Overscheduling, or trying to do too much, can make anyone feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Try to set limits for how many activities your family agrees to over the break, and know that it’s OK to say “no” to events your family isn’t comfortable participating in. Leave plenty of unstructured time for the family to rest, play and have fun with one another!
  • Practice gratitude. Recognizing and showing appreciation for the good things in our lives not only helps us feel happier and less stressed, but it can have a positive impact on our physical health, too. It’s normal for kids to struggle with gratitude; they need help learning, so try to be patient. Start simple by asking everyone to share one thing they are grateful for each day at dinnertime.
  • Come up with your own coping strategies! Encourage your family to try out many different coping skills to find what works best. They can be simple and don’t have to take a lot of time: Play a game, cook, create art, do yoga, listen to music, look at pictures of happy memories, tell jokes, etc.

Big or small, we’ve all experienced different losses over the last year. During the holidays, there are going to be new kinds of losses (whether that’s not being able to visit with family or having to cancel long-standing traditions). No matter your reason for your grief, whatever you feel is real and valid.

It may seem like you shouldn’t celebrate right now, or can’t enjoy the holidays, when you or others are grieving. However, allowing yourself to feel whatever you feel is part of the healing process. Laughter and joy can also help you feel hopeful and more connected to your family.

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, consider ways you can remember and honor them during the holidays. That might mean looking at pictures or videos, telling stories about them, or doing something that reminds you of them, such as listening to a song they loved, making their favorite meal, etc.

Instead of focusing on all the things you can’t do this year, try to embrace change and shift your energy to what you can do instead! Encourage your family to get creative and have fun.

  • Create new traditions. Your family probably already has many traditions, but it’s never too late to create new ones! Talk to your family about exploring new options and possibilities. Who knows, maybe you will come up with something that’s new and even better!
  • Participate in a mail swap. Have your kids write and decorate cards to mail to friends and family and invite them to do the same. Not only is it a fun activity for the kids, but the mail you receive will make for great decorations and memories.
  • Host a virtual gathering. Group video chat apps, such as Houseparty or Zoom, have games that you can play with other people. Or hop on a video call and bake cookies together or sing holiday songs with your loved ones. The possibilities are endless!
  • Cook a nice dinner as a family. Upgrade your loungewear to a real outfit, take some pictures, set the table and enjoy a meal together. You can always invite friends and family to eat with you virtually, too!
  • Tune in. Take advantage of holiday events and celebrations that are streaming online.

After a break from school, it can be challenging to transition back into “real” life. No matter how hard you try, it’s normal—and OK—to get off track during these times.

Help your child adjust to going back to school, whether it is virtual or in person:

  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings (and your own, too!) about the break coming to an end.
  • Make a plan to spend quality time together one day after school or over the weekend so you both have something fun to look forward to.
  • Get school outfits, lunches and backpacks ready so that things go smoothly the first morning back.