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Four tips for managing frustration over the holiday season

December 15, 2022
Dealing with Disappointment

The holiday season is “the most wonderful time of year” — sometimes.  

It comes with many joyful experiences and eagerly anticipated events and activities, like gathering with loved ones, taking vacations from school and work, giving gifts, sharing traditions and having high expectations for good cheer and happy memories.  

However, this time of year can also be fraught for many — grieving the loss of loved ones, experiencing seasonal mood changes, facing the stresses of travel, feeling the hardship that comes with financial strain and many other challenge.  

People of all ages may experience a range of emotions, from exuberance and joy to anxiety and disappointment. As we enter this holiday season, consider these tips for helping manage the disappointment that children may have.  

  • Avoid promising things that are out of your control. We’ve all done it. We have all overpromised and underdelivered. Sometimes plans change, and it is important to help children cope with unexpected events. Whenever possible, set clear expectations for what might happen and for what will or will not be happening.  

  • Acknowledge hurt or disappointed feelings. It is difficult for parents to see their children in distress. At the same time, feeling upset sometimes is completely normal, and learning to identify and cope with these feelings are valuable life skills. Resist the urge to immediately fix children’s distress. Try to say things like “I understand you are disappointed because [fill in the blank …]. Thank you for telling me.” 

After validating children’s emotions, parents can help them find the silver lining; just make sure they know it is okay to have hurt feelings, that you have faith in their ability to handle the situation and that you are there to help. Sometimes parents feel frustrated or guilty when their children seem disappointed. Try to resist the blame-game that can come along with these situations. Instead, acknowledge their emotions, offer a hug or some alone time and then give comfort and positive attention when they come back to you after processing and managing their feelings.  

  • Let children know — sooner rather than later — about a change in plans. Children are remarkably resilient, but they benefit from having time to process their feelings about a change in plans. When everyone is up-front and honest about these things, children realize they can trust their parents — and also that their parents trust them to handle difficult things. Children also take their cues from parents, so use this as an opportunity to model flexibility and calm coping. 

  • Be prepared for different routines and schedules. Over the holidays, children are out of school, parents take time off and, sometimes, there’s travel involved. Children’s bedtimes or meal times might change, and that’s okay. When children are tired, they can become frustrated more easily. It is important for parents to give children — and themselves — grace and to know that routines can pick back up where they left off. Just because a child has had some 8:00 p.m. dinners or 10:00 p.m. bedtimes, it doesn’t mean that they won’t settle right back in to their normal schedules when the holidays are over.  

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy holiday season! 

Submitted by:  

Dr. Marni Axelrad, Clinical Chief of Pediatric Psychology at Texas Children’s Hospital and Professor at Baylor College of Medicine. 

Dr. Katherine A. Gallagher, Clinical Program Director of Pediatric Psychology at Texas Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine.