Children and holiday stress

Children’s of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. –  The holiday season is a magical time, but it can also be stressful for some. Dan Marullo, PH.D., a pediatric psychologist and neuropsychologist at Children’s of Alabama, says stress can impact children and parents. 

Marullo says several things can contribute to stress, including tasks such as finishing a to-do list or finalizing travel plans. However, he says one of the most significant contributors is that children are out of school and not following their regular routines. 

“Routine is your friend when you are raising children,” Marullo said. “The younger the child or if a child has special needs, the more routine is helpful. It provides stability and a sense of safety for a child.” 

Marullo encourages parents to think about what they want their children to see or experience during the holiday season. 

“It’s a fun family time. If you’re traveling or even if you’re staying home, there may be a lot of pressure to go and visit everybody and do all the parties and all that; it’s probably not realistic,” Marullo said. “Sometimes, I think we kind of stress ourselves out trying to do too much, just understanding that it’s OK to prioritize, it’s OK to say no.” 

Marullo says parents should keep an eye on their children’s behavior. He says it is one of the signs a child may be dealing with stress. He says children may become more irritable, have more temper tantrums or become very clingy. He also says parents should consider setting aside some quiet time or even plan an outdoor activity. 

“You also want to build in time for kids just to burn off some steam to go outside if the weather is OK, run around and play, get dirty and sweaty. It helps them to modulate their behavior, particularly when things are a little bit different,” Marullo said. 

Marullo says there is an additional resource for parents. Parents can call the Psychiatric Intake Response Center (PIRC) hotline at 205-638-7472. It is a free, confidential statewide phone response center that helps adult callers find mental health resources for their children. It is staffed by licensed mental health professionals seven days a week, from 8 a.m.-11 p.m.