As we head into the winter holiday season, we know many of you are excited to spend time with friends and family. But those fun times also come with stressful moments, especially with young children. 

Here’s how to survive the holidays with young children and minimize stress for your family. 

A family, including two adult men, one adult woman, two teenagers, and two younger children, gather around a kitchen island to prepare food.

Take Care of Yourself

Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally and watching your own behavior is a great way to teach by example during the holidays. When you are outwardly frazzled or even upset, your kids are more likely to be, too. 

Stay hydrated, avoid getting hangry (hungry+angry), and take some deep breaths when things get tense. Practice self-care by journaling, meditating, exercising, or hobbies. Get plenty of rest. A sense of humor is also a great antidote to tension.

Set Expectations for Children

Children do best when they are prepared for what’s going to happen next. Be clear about what they can expect and what you expect of them. Let children know what will happen and when. 

For young children who can’t tell time, you can use other events as time “landmarks.” For example, “First, we will drive to Grandma’s house in the morning. Then, we will open presents together. After that, we will have a meal with the family and spend the night at Grandma’s house.”

A young girl holds a teddy bear while sleeping in bed

Prep for Changes in Routine – and Maintain Routine as Much as Possible

Give kids a heads-up when things will be different from normal to stave off meltdowns. Explain that, instead of having breakfast first thing in the morning like usual, they’ll be allowed to open presents when they wake up. Or, instead of going straight to bed after bath time, the family will stay up to watch a holiday movie together.

When possible, maintain normal routines. Bring favorite toys, comfort objects, and books when traveling. Even if you’re at someone else’s house, try to have meals and bedtime routines at about the same time as at home. If your child takes a nap in the afternoon, schedule time for them to rest when you’re out of the house.

Manage Your Own Expectations

Trying to stick to your down-to-the-minute schedule or check off your list of all 25 holiday traditions can be difficult with young children, and even other adults, around. Be realistic, and minimize your own stress by managing your expectations. 

Pick a few activities that mean the most to you, and prioritize them. Consider what other people, including your children, might enjoy as an alternative to your preconceived ideas. You may not be able to do all the same things you did before children, or to do them in the same way. Keep an open mind, and you may discover new traditions or favorite activities you hadn’t thought of. 

Don’t be afraid to turn down an invitation to an event when your calendar is already full. Ask for help with childcare, hire a sitter for some down time, and combine shopping lists with friends and family to share the load of holiday errands. And, finally, if someone else tries to set unrealistic expectations for you and your family, you can suggest alternatives – or simply say: not this year.

A young boy and girl giggle while laying in bed with a book.

Schedule Breaks

If planning your day down to the minute helps you feel relaxed and prepared, be sure to pencil in downtime. Set aside 20-30 minutes with no scheduled activities, a few times each day. If you notice your child getting worn out, anxious, or upset, take a break sooner. 

If your child seems fidgety, try some physical activity. If they seem anxious, a low-key, quiet break is ideal. Sometimes, your child may just need to vent to you – a safe person – away from other adults and children. 

The Family Center/La Familia wishes you all a happy holiday season!
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