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Parenting Feature Articles


Minimize stress and maximize the gifts of the season

Julie Gardner, former ParentLink Associate, University of Missouri Extension


Parents, be warned that a RED and GREEN alert has been declared by family support professionals who want you and your children to experience positive relationships during (and beyond) the holiday season.

During the holidays, parents who are already stressed in their daily lives are subject to additional stressors that can take away from what is supposed to be a jolly season. Make a decision to take time to slow down. Make time each day for you and your loved ones so that all of you will experience the benefits of the holiday season.

According to Karen Debord, Ph.D., a North Carolina child development state extension specialist, stress works like this:


  • Small things that bother you pile up or an unexpected event occurs.
  • You react and must think about how to deal with the stressor, which may involve the need for money, time, family support and/or other resources.
  • You react to the stress and take action.
  • The event either turns into a crisis or you make a plan to deal with it using your coping skills and resources.


The holiday season can be a time of pile up. The main additional pressures are related to finances, family and time. Unrealistic expectations will make you feel even more stressed. For example, if your family has an unresolved conflict, it is unlikely that perfect peace will occur just because of the holiday.

The following lists are suggestions from family education/support professionals to help minimize the stress and maximize the gifts of the season. The RED list includes suggested actions to stop, avoid or reduce. The GREEN list includes suggestions to consider doing. These are some ways you can turn stress into a plan of action to cope, rather than letting it pile up or become overwhelming. Don’t forget to use the coping skills or resources that have worked for you in the past.



  • Don’t overspend. Shop at secondhand or consignment shops if needed.
  • Don’t expect to resolve past or current family issues.
  • Don’t try to add items to your schedule without letting go of other things you do.
  • Don’t skip meals to eat holiday food and drink.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant. Sparkling juices can be a fun, festive alternative.
  • Don’t expect others to make you happy. It is your choice and you are the only one who can control whether or not you are happy.
  • Don’t think you have to be crazy or stressed just because many people around you make that choice.



  • Have realistic expectations about spending and managing your time. Also be realistic about what you expect of the people in your life.
  • Learn to say no or delay demands on your finances, on your schedule and from the people in your life.
  • Give gifts that you can afford, which may be “coupons” for a service such as doing dishes for someone for a week, babysitting, giving a massage, etc.
  • Expect that you and others will experience a range of emotions from sad or mad to happy and joyful.
  • Spend time with people who nurture and support you, and minimize time with those who do not have a positive effect on you.
  • Take breaks. Snuggle up and read a good book, take a walk, listen and move to some music, breathe the scents of the season, enjoy a healthy snack and get your sleep.
  • Delegate, delay or decide not to do certain things. It is OK to let go of past traditions to embrace new ones.
  • Eat regular, balanced meals and enjoy the goodies in moderation.
  • Be physically active. Include time for exercise or incorporate it into your daily activities — park far away when out shopping, take the stairs, dance to holiday music, etc.
  • Make time just to relax and be with people you care about and who care about you.
  • If ever there is a time to just go with the flow, this is it.
  • Give yourself permission if things are piling up, to stay home and spend time relaxing alone.
  • Children want presence more than presents. Slow down for yourself. Slow down for your children. Spend quality time together — this will ensure that you and your family are making positive memories, which everyone will remember far longer than the gifts exchanged.


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Last Updated 12/13/2016