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For Expert Comment: MU Expert Offers Tips to Reduce Families’ Holiday Stress

Nov. 15, 2012

Story Contact(s):
Nathan Hurst,, 573-882-6217

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

By Kate McIntyre

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Hundreds of dollars in spending and calendars overloaded with extra events and commitments can turn the holiday season from merry to miserable for many Americans. A University of Missouri Extension specialist offers tips to help families reduce stress during the holiday season.

Lucy Schrader is the coordinator for the MU Extension Building Strong Families Program, which helps families build on their strengths to improve their relationships. More than 22,000 adults and nearly 6,000 youth in 11 states have participated in the program.

“Families are dynamic and they aren’t perfect,” Schrader said. “The holidays are a high-stress time due to more obligations on the calendar, the blending of cultures or families who may not get along, overwhelming financial stress, and high expectations for traditions.”

Schrader says National Families Week from Nov. 18-24 is the perfect time for families to practice communication techniques before the holiday season gets busier. She suggests one way that families can spend more time together is to participate in the Million Minute Challenge, a grassroots effort that encourages face-to-face time among families and friends, during National Game and Puzzle Week, which is also next week.

“Small things can make a big difference, and playing games together can be one way to find that quality time,” she said. “By playing games together, family members get to know each other better, talk, laugh and be silly.”

Schrader suggests the following tips to help families manage stress during the holiday season:

  • Try to celebrate one good thing each day, whether it’s getting out the door on time or taking a few minutes to chat about school or work.
  • Talk with each person in the family, including children, and let them know about changes in schedules or upcoming events.
  • Remember that kind words and acts go a long way. A hug or heartfelt “thanks” are meaningful and simple ways to express appreciation.
  • Show self-respect and be nice to family members who may be struggling with changes to routines or health behaviors.
  • Be realistic and communicate up-front about what the family can do. Identify which traditions are most important and which can be skipped or delayed, whether kids or adults can help with chores or events, and when the family plans to stay home and relax.
  • Take a slow, deep breath at multiple times throughout the day.

Schrader and the Building Strong Families Program are affiliated with the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences Department of Personal Financial Planning and MU Extension.