Tips for Enjoying the Holidays With Your Children

A service member with her daughter sitting on her lap coloring on a desk

Shhh  — here's a secret. You don't have to be a Pinterest parent to make the holidays special for your kids. You don't need handmade everything, cutesy décor or the perfect gifts. These tips can help you enjoy holiday fun without all the hoopla.

Build up to holidays slowly

Try this approach to avoid the chaotic hustle and bustle of the holiday season:

  • Spread holiday rituals out over several weeks.
  • Plan activities to bring your family together several times, if possible.
  • Celebrate in relaxed and meaningful ways, and take time out between events.

Try to stick to routines


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With all the excitement surrounding holidays, children can get overly tired and wound up. This can spoil their good time and yours. Keep your holidays simple and sane by sticking to routines and taking things slowly:

  • Feed your kids before a holiday party if you don't know when the meal will be served, or if you aren't sure your children will eat what they're offered.
  • Encourage everyone to take an afternoon nap, especially when you know you'll be up late.
  • Keep yourself calm as you plan and anticipate the fun ahead.

Manage your children's expectations about gifts

Give your children some idea of the gifts they can expect to receive so you can prevent meltdowns on the actual holiday. Here are some ways you can accomplish this without completely giving away the surprise:

  • Ask your kids to make a wish list.
  • Let them know if any items on their list are completely out of the question.
  • Explain to your kids why they may not get certain things that they ask for.
  • Cut back on TV to avoid ads that make children want everything they see.
  • Point out that toys advertised on TV don't often work as well in real life.
  • Talk to relatives and friends about how you prefer them to handle gifts for your kids.
  • Suggest one gift for your whole family on holidays and individual gifts for birthdays.
  • Let your children open gifts from relatives early if they get them early so that they can avoid holiday gift overload and express their appreciation in person.
  • Remember that the most valuable gift you can give your children is your loving attention.

Encourage generosity

Add a giving tradition to your family's holiday ritual. Here are some ideas:

  • Donate clothes.
  • Volunteer at a senior center.
  • Contribute gifts to a toy drive.
  • Get your kids involved in a project, like a big cleanup at home.
  • Recycle outgrown toys.
  • Offer unused toys to a homeless shelter.

Consider children's specific needs

Remember during the holidays that children will be children. By keeping in mind each of your children's needs at their particular stage of development, you can maneuver around potentially negative holiday situations:

  • Avoid battles that will ruin the day for all of you, like insisting that your kids wear an outfit or a hairstyle that they hate.
  • Remember that holidays may cause anxiety for children, especially if they are expected to behave a certain way.
  • Be aware that your infant may get anxious being passed from family member to family member.
  • Save some gifts to open later when your kids are calmer and less distracted.
  • Look over pictures of unfamiliar people with your kids beforehand, and remind them how you are all connected.

Form traditions

Holiday traditions help instill a sense of family history and identity, shared meaning and special memories. Here are some suggestions for establishing traditions:

  • Decorate your home, especially with familiar seasonal decor.
  • Eat certain foods that remind your family of the holidays.
  • Listen to special music.
  • Attend a religious service or holiday event.
  • Mark holiday event dates on your calendar with stickers or drawings.
  • Ask your kids which traditions mean the most to them and follow them.

Factor in changes

If your kids have recently experienced a divorce, death or other big change, like a loved one’s deployment, then they may especially feel the effects during holidays. You can reassure them that although the holidays will be different than in years past, they will still be special. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Support your children's efforts to include their stepfamily during the holidays.
  • Make remembering a loved one a meaningful part of your holiday celebration.
  • Give your children the opportunity to express their feelings, and also share with them what you are feeling.
  • If a parent is deployed, record a special holiday message or prepare a care package to send.

Mark the end of the holiday

All the buildup and excitement before a holiday can lead to letdown afterward. You can help your children get back to normal by trying the following:

  • Mark the end of a holiday period with a closing ritual, like taking down decorations together.
  • Write thank-you notes to relatives and friends.
  • Place new pictures in a photo album filled with family memories.

Parenting during the holidays can be stressful, but with the right planning and tools, you and your children can enjoy these special times together.


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