The holiday season isn’t always the most joyful time of year for consumers because it can come with a lot of additional stress. Researchers from Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan recently explored how parents’stress may impact their children.
According to their findings, about 20% of parents reported that their stress during the holiday season makes it hard for their children to fully enjoy this time of year.
“People are surrounded by images depicting the holidays as a time of peace, love, and joy,” said researcher Sarah Clark. “Many parents want to give their children those perfect magical memories to treasure for years to come.
“But all of the behind the scenes work to make that vision come true could have the opposite effect for some families. Excessive parental stress can add tension and diminish the joy children associate with the season.”
Managing holiday stress
For the study, the researchers surveyed parents around the country to better understand what the holidays are like for them and how they think their experiences and attitudes impact their children.
The survey showed that one in six parents reported high levels of stress during the holidays, with mothers reporting higher stress levels than fathers. The top three reasons for holiday stress included having to do extra tasks, concerns over family members’ health, and finances.
Ultimately, about 20% of the parents reported that their children were negatively affected by this holiday stress. The results showed that most of this negativity comes from both children’s and parents’ high expectations for the holidays.
Beating holiday stress
The researchers also asked parents how they manage stress levels during the holidays. More than 70% of respondents said alone time helps them lower their stress levels. Listening to music, exercise, and religious services were also helpful for some people.
The researchers recommend that families talk about what's most important to them during the holiday season and what aspects of the holidays bring up too much stress.
“One strategy is to talk as a family about holiday plans and priorities,” said Clark. “Parents may have misconceptions about what their child’s favorite holiday memories and traditions are – they could actually be much simpler than you think.”
The researchers hope these findings lead to meaningful conversations among family members about stress and mental health during the holidays.
“The holiday season may be a time for parents to model good mental health hygiene, by verbalizing how they recognize and try to relieve stress,” said Clark. “This approach is an invitation for children to share their own feelings of stress and a reminder to take action when their stress is elevated.”