Sneak peek: A few holiday tips for parents to help you and your kids enjoy the season.
The holiday season is upon us and if you are a parent, you know that the holidays can bring both joys and challenges. For young children, the holidays are exciting, but also a bit overwhelming. With all the new experiences, new people and unexpected events, their behavior sometimes is a bit unexpected too. After years of facing family gatherings, big dinners, and trips with young children in tow, I thought I’d share a few holiday tips for parents that might just lessen the stress a bit.
I cannot guarantee that these tips will ensure that all your holiday events will go smoothly, but I think they will at least give you a heads-up on some issues to consider.
7 Holiday Tips for Parents
Have a pre-event debriefing
It may sound like you are part of an elite air force squadron, but really this is just a fancy way of saying: set clear expectations. This doesn’t have to be all rules and regulations (although I usually include some of those), but the idea is to have a few minutes of calm before the big holiday event to sit down with your kids. During this sit-down, you can explain what’s going to happen at this event, the timeline (i.e., when are we opening presents!), who will be there, etc. Kids love routine and it helps them to know when something big is happening that is outside the normal routine. This also helps clarify any rules beforehand so there isn’t any confusion about expectations.
Example: Your family is going over to grandma’s house for Christmas dinner. You might explain to the kids who all will be there, any big events that are happening and your expectations regarding dinner behavior, consumption of sweets, etc. This is also a good time to remind kids what happens when it’s time to leave or if there are any rules of the house they should be aware of.
2020 version: have a pre-event debriefing before any virtual meet-up with family or friends. Discuss rules for virtual room etiquette such as only one person talking at a time, trying not to interrupt, or not using stickers or emojis excessively (or whatever rules you feel are important).
Related reading: Surprisingly Helpful Calming Activities for Super-active Kids
Have a code word
Again, this sounds like you’re setting up for a mission (and you sort of are) but it’s really simple. A reader actually gave me this great holiday tip for parents–set up a code word that kids can use with you at big gatherings if they get overwhelmed, need to find a bathroom, need a break, etc. When they have a need, they just go to you and use the code word. This is helpful because some kids don’t want to be embarrassed in explaining their issue in front of other adults. This way, they can express that they have a need and you can respond, without any big scene or embarrassment. Great idea!
Example: you establish a code with your 6-year-old so that if he feels overwhelmed or needs a quiet place to hang out, you can find that for him at the gathering. This can be especially helpful for kids who struggle with loud spaces or crowds.
2020 version: try to make sure any basic needs are met prior to the virtual meet-up. Plan for pre-meeting bathroom stops and snacks. If kids have trouble focusing for long during virtual meet-ups, allow them to be excused after a few minutes of chatting. Plan for things they can do while the adults continue to chat.
Consider your child’s temperament
This related to the code word idea but it’s slightly different. This holiday tip for parents is one that is often overlooked. Kids with different temperaments can have very different reactions to big gatherings and social situations. Introverted kids may struggle with becoming overwhelmed and need a quiet place. Extroverts, on the other hand, may thrive during the party with all the social engagement but then meltdown when it’s time to leave. It’s helpful to consider your child’s possible needs beforehand.
Example: if your child is introverted, you might find a quiet room or corner they can go to if they become overwhelmed. If your child is more extroverted, you can discuss the process for leaving and how to prevent a meltdown when it’s time to go.
2020 version: consider your child’s temperament when planning virtual meet-ups with family and friends. If your introverted child doesn’t want to be on screen for long periods, consider allowing for other means of communicating or just short calls. Consider your extroverted child’s social needs as well. Try to allow them some time to chat with friends their own age if possible.
This is one of those holiday tips for parents that seems obvious until you are actually in the situation and then it often gets pushed aside. As best as possible, try to set your child up for success. Try not to expect your toddler to act like a 10-year-old at a big social gathering. This can be hard because, during the holidays, other adults are expecting many things of us–dinners out, meeting up with relatives, etc. Sometimes, these events are just not kid-friendly, but our kids often have to come along.
Example: you’re invited to a big family dinner in a setting you know is not toddler-friendly. My best advice is to be as prepared as possible. Bring small toys, coloring, snacks, etc. to keep your toddler occupied as much as possible. Scan the area of any obvious breakable items or hazards when your arrive. Try to have a sense of humor about the whole thing and if possible, leave early 🙂
2020 version: developmentally appropriate expectations are still at play during virtual meet-ups. Toddlers and young children probably cannot chat online with family for long periods without getting distracted. Keep the calls short and allow younger kids to talk about things that interest them like toys or movies. Perhaps plan another time to chat with family after the younger kids are in bed.
Encourage gratitude, but don’t force it
During the holidays, it’s common for kids to receive gifts and it’s equally common for parents to want to encourage their kids to be grateful for what they receive. This issue can become the bane of parenting existence during the holidays. While I’m a HUGE proponent of fostering gratitude, very young kids really have a limited concept of this idea. Personally, when my kids were young, I did try to encourage a “thank you” from them, but many times it’s half-hearted. To my mind, this is okay and it actually establishes a good habit of mind so they eventually learn what “thank you” means. However, if your child is resistant to saying “thank you” I don’t think it’s worth it to force the issue too much (for young children). As children mature, the expectation for expressing gratitude is higher and kids usually understand and can express it better.
Example: your toddler receives a gift from a relative. You can try the classic parenting line of “what do you say?” and hope that they’ll say “thank you.” If your toddler doesn’t understand, you can always say thank you for them or try again later.
2020 version: this year, the “thank yous” might play out over a virtual chatting situation so keep expectations very low. Try encouraging gratitude but try not to force too much with younger kids. Older kids can spend time writing thank you notes after the holidays.
Forced affection is useless
There have many several thoughtful posts online recently about the issue of kids not being forced to hug relatives or friends. This, of course, is a big change from our childhood when we were often forced to hug long-lost relatives that we had never seen before. I, for one, am glad to see this change in our cultural norm. From a young age, kids can learn about consent in these simple ways. Plus, it really prevents a lot of awkwardness with relatives if they understand your child’s feelings.
Example: you and your kids are meeting up with relatives that your children have never met before. If they are old enough to understand, talk with your kids about how the greetings might work. Do they feel comfortable hugging their relatives or would they prefer a fist bump, high-five or some other alternative? This is one of the best holiday tips for parents that I’ve come across recently about this topic–think about these things in advance. Discuss what your child is comfortable with and how to handle the situation to prevent social awkwardness from taking hold.
2020 version: typical forms of affection may not be possible this year so think of creative ways for kids to show love for distant family members. Send a lot of pictures and videos of kids opening gifts or having fun during the holidays. Try recording your child singing a song or sending a voice message for a loved one who is not able to see you in person.
This is one of those holiday tips for parents that is, of course, much easier said than done. We all plan to be ready to leave on time but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. With young children, always allowing more time to get ready is smart. Rushing at the last minute to put on shoes and fix hair just adds stress to the event for everyone. Kids sense when you are stressed and often do not respond well when that happens.
Example: if possible, plan an extra 15-20 minute buffer in your routine for getting ready and out the door. I find it’s also helpful to plan for some downtime for kids during the holiday season. Time for naps, quiet time or just time to play with their toys without being rushed on to another event.
2020 version: this tip is still relevant in many ways this year. Although most of us may not be going to many outings, young children still do best with some quiet time or nap time each day. Avoid overstimulation by putting some limits on screen time (although it’s a challenge!).
Beyond these simple parenting tips for the holidays, perhaps the best advice I’ve ever heard regarding this season has more to do with mindset than anything else. One of the bloggers I read recently posted this:
With it, she rights these wise words,
“This motto is what gets me through travel, holidays, church—basically 90% of life with kids.
Keep your hope high.
Keep your expectations low.
Because expectations are anticipation-gone-control-freak. Your picture of the perfect holiday. Your picture of the perfect family. Your desire to do anything 100% your way, unfettered by other people’s mess or needs or humanity.
Hope on the other hand? Spacious. Surprising. Sustaining.”
Wow! That puts it all in perspective, doesn’t it? So, this holiday season my wish for you is that it is filled with hope and a renewed sense of calm.
Wishing you all the best this holiday season!
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