Wednesday, August 10, 2022
Aug. 10, 2022

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Holidays can be stressful for kids, too

Clark County experts say listen closely, don’t hesitate to seek help

By , Columbian Features Editor
Published:

As we head into the second set of winter holidays amid COVID-19, the pandemic may be waning or it may be about to get worse with the omicron variant. This uncertainty makes a time of year that’s already stressful for families with children even more so.

“The holidays are a season of tremendous joy for many families. But it’s also a season of high expectations that can be stressful in ways that don’t always get as much attention,” said Andrew Tucker, director of behavioral health programs for Children’s Home Society of Washington. The nonprofit provides counseling as well as other services to children and families.

He’s concerned because the holidays, fraught during the best of times, this year come during a mental health crisis among children.

Gov. Jay Inslee declared the fragile state of kids’ mental health a state emergency in March, after Washington’s hospitals reported a spike in suicide attempts and psychiatric unit admissions among children.

Then in October, associations representing pediatricians, child and adolescent psychiatrists, and children’s hospitals declared a nationwide emergency in children’s mental health, citing the serious toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of existing challenges.

Holiday Tips for Parents

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these suggestions for getting your family through the holidays:

 Stick to routines as much as possible.

 Emphasize exercising, eating healthy foods and getting plenty of sleep.

 Limit how much time you and your kids spend on screens.

 Avoid the pressure to spend a lot on gifts.

The AAP advises parents seek help for their children if these symptoms last more than two weeks:

 An infant or young child clings to parents or has feeding and sleep problems.

 A preschooler starts sucking her thumb or wetting the bed.

 An older child is fearful, anxious, withdrawn, argues more, is more aggressive or complains of stomachaches or headaches.

 A teen gets into trouble or can’t focus. Teens might hide problems because they are afraid or don’t want to burden their family.

“It’s important to slow down as adults and listen to kids and what they’re saying,” Tucker said. “Sometimes kids will tell you with their behavior — being emotionally reactive, crying, hitting or being mischievous. It will manifest different ways in the life span. Teenagers are often able to access ways of acting out that can be even more disruptive or damaging long term, with drugs and alcohol or unsafe behavior.”

“Kids are doing the best they can,” he added. “It’s important as adults to keep that in mind when kids are behaving in a way that’s disruptive and challenging us.”

The good news is, “most of the time, caring adults, loving caregivers and devoted parents are able to produce remarkable emotional well-being just being themselves and doing their best,” Tucker said.

But if you see worrisome signs, pay attention.

“Parents and caregivers know their kids,” Tucker said. “They can tell when kids aren’t able to do the things they would normally be able to do. If that’s going on, it doesn’t hurt to reach out for help.”

Parents can talk to someone at their child’s school or doctor’s office, or call Children’s Home Society’s Vancouver office at 360-695-1325 for resources.

Even if your kids seem fine, “it can be helpful to relax on nonessential expectations” during the holidays, Tucker said.

Last year, gathering with extended family wasn’t advised. This year, with vaccines available and safety precautions relaxed, many families will choose to get together. Others may still be wary, given that no COVID-19 vaccine is yet available for children younger than 5 and scientific uncertainty whether existing vaccines protect against the new omicron variant. Family members may not all agree about what’s safe.

“Hardening of positions on vaccines and mandates can also make gathering a little bit more stressful for families,” Tucker said. “It’s important for families to have respectful, open communication about how the holidays are going to work. … I think it can be just as simple as saying, ‘In light of everything that’s going on right now, I’d like to schedule a time to talk through how we’ll do the holidays this year.’ ”

“Approach these issues with a commitment to maintaining the relationship regardless of the decision made,” he added. “Think of it less as a problem with a solution than as a dilemma that needs to be navigated together.”

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