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Empowering Parents: Counselor Shares Tips to Make Thanksgiving Stress-Free 

 Parents may be able to alleviate or reduce stress during the upcoming holiday season by regularly checking the status of the social, emotional, and mental health of youngsters, says a school counselor with Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS).

Dr. Lori Hart, the elementary and middle school counseling coordinator for the district’s Postsecondary Readiness Department, said the holiday season, which traditionally starts with Thanksgiving, may be stressful for youngsters for a variety of reasons, including changes in routine and participation in extended family gatherings.

“Parents are to be often surprised by a spike in behavior, especially if there was a period of little to no concern,” Hart said. “Post-COVID, divorce, or other life events may cause these things to look different for families. Children are susceptible to this. 

“Although we are a few years out from the most intense moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, families are starting to gather in larger numbers every year, thus reinstating traditions. Some children may have some issues with these events. So, talk to your family about expectations.”

As the holiday approaches, Hart offers the following tips to help children cope: 

  • Respect everyone’s needs: All children have different needs depending on their age and the event’s significance. Expect that as conversations about holiday plans occur at school and home this may elevate emotion during this time of year. Make sure that everyone’s voice is heard, so that needs can be discussed in advance. 
  • Create new traditions: It is expected that perhaps a traditional family dish or annual event may need to be changed this year depending on the grieving needs of the children or family. It is okay to set boundaries and explore new traditions or perhaps not participate in the same event. Have an open discussion with each family member to unify in advance what traditions everyone would like to participate in so that the holiday is an enjoyable experience and predictable for children.
  • Communicate with your child’s school: Teachers can be the first to see that a child is more emotional in the classroom, or behaviors can rise during stress.  If there has been a major life event that the Thanksgiving holiday could trigger for your child, please communicate ahead of time with the teacher and after the holiday to update them on your child’s needs. The collaboration between home and school can provide a major sense of stability for your child during a time of grief.
  • Welcome others to the table: Most communities are growing in multiculturalism and families may be experiencing Thanksgiving for the first time.  Have your child or family invite a new friend to Thanksgiving, celebrating with new friends and other families. Families also may seek out other cultural experiences to add to their traditions.  
  • Aim for Connection and Self Care: Most importantly it is a great time to connect and practice some self-care. Resist the overscheduling of the holiday or checking off the list of every food item on the table and opt for more quiet moments of connection with your children. Encourage children to take longer breaks from devices and engage in conversation with family and friends to express their emotions and increase overall social skills with others.  

Hart also encourages parents to practice self-care and build in unscheduled time to read a book, go for a walk, or engage in a hobby that will promote some time to relax and reflect.