How co-parents can reduce their kids' holiday stress

Most adults experience some level of stress during the holiday season -- with shopping, decorating, making it to the kids' holiday events and fulfilling their own social obligations. If you're recently separated or divorced, that stress is likely multiplied because you're doing much of this on your own and dealing with your co-parent when it comes to your kids' activities and schedule.

However, don't forget that your children are likely experiencing stress as well -- particularly if this is the first holiday season their parents have been apart. The family traditions they count on are being upended. They may be moving back and forth between homes during their winter break.

Parents need to recognize that kids often show stress in different ways than adults do. Depending on their age, they may not understand or be able to communicate that this is what they're feeling. They may become angry or emotional.

While no parent enjoys dealing with a child who's yelling or crying, it's essential to stop and encourage them to talk about what they're feeling. They need some level of sympathy rather than criticism.

While you can't change the reality that your family is now different than it used to be, you can help your child feel better, at least temporarily, by giving them a distraction. Fun distractions, like helping you bake cookies or wrap presents, are good. Even giving them a chore, like walking the dog, can help.

Parents can help reduce their children's stress over the holidays by having a holiday schedule worked out, making sure the kids know and understand the schedule and stick to it. This can be highly reassuring to kids whose parents have recently broken up.

Finally, encourage them to enjoy their time with their other parent. If the schedule has you spending Christmas Day or New Year's Eve alone, don't make your kids feel guilty. Make your own plans. When they return, ask to see pictures and videos and ask questions about what they did. Let them play with the presents your co-parent got them -- even if your ex went way over the dollar limit upon which you agreed.

If the agreed-upon holiday schedule presents serious problems -- or if you didn't have one -- you can work with your attorney after the holidays to draft a holiday parenting time agreement that will help things go more smoothly in the future.

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