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By: Dr. Tami Silverman

Many kids look forward to holiday breaks, with their chances for vacations from school, sleeping late, extra cookies and treats, family, friends, and presents. But this year, like most everything else, COVID-19 has changed and added stress to our holiday plans.

With this year’s unique circumstances, how can we support our children, and youth workers, through the holiday season? Three groups of experts offer helpful advice.

Social Work Today highlights the importance of balancing structured time with downtime. Children and youth do best with routines, especially when it comes to sleep schedules. Aside for the few days you may be celebrating, try to keep children on schedules that has them going to bed and waking up within an hour of their normal times. Dr. Hollie Sobel, a licensed clinical psychologist from Social Work Today, also suggests finding teachable moments that feel more relaxed than school activities. Help with cooking or baking and budgeting for holiday gifts are ways to engage kids in the season while also teaching math and financial skills.

Finding ways to take care of ourselves while also thinking of others is advice from the American Psychological Association. Simple physical activities, like going for walks or shooting hoops, can help kids (and adults) reduce stress. This is also the ideal time of the year to think about strengthening social connections. Although we may not be able to celebrate in-person, we can help our children and youth maintain special connections from a distance. Exchanging special notes, calls, or texts are easy ways for children to connect with positive people in their lives. Let them take the lead in choosing the method and message.

The American Academy of Pediatrics put together a pre-pandemic guide that still offers sound advice for handling times during the holidays that can be hectic and stressful:

Finally, it is crucial that we pay attention to the hardships the pandemic has created for many kids and families. Loss of a family member, job loss, financial stress, and food insecurity have disproportionately impacted families with children, particularly families and children of color.

As caring communities, we can come together to address the needs of our neighbors. Reach out to your local United Way, food bank or community foundations to see how you can help. Teaching children and youth to share their time and resources with others is a life shaping lesson that can benefit our kids for years to come.

Talking to our kids about why and how the holidays will be different can help them develop realistic expectations, while reducing their stress and frustrations. Continue to listen and reinforce that feelings of disappointment, anger, or sadness are all normal. The CDC has many helpful resources for talking with our kids about the pandemic, including this one.

We can all play a role by modeling the importance of health and connection. Give yourself, and the kids in your life, a break. Set aside time to play games, watch movies, or simply laugh with the children in your life. There are a few easy ways to make the season enjoyable, and meaningful, for our kids. It is often the unexpected giggles or unplanned moments that make lasting memories.

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(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org  or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)