Family Rituals to Help Kids Handle Holidays Successfully!

Holidays would seem to be such an exciting time for children. But parents often say that this is the time their kids tantrum, act aggressively, or become obsessed with wanting toys. Why would kids need help handling holidays successfully?

Often, we envision holidays as the perfect time for families. Parents can often have media-fed unrealistic expectations for holidays, and for children at holidays. The perfect decorations; children dressed up in holiday outfits sitting quietly or contentedly playing with cherished family members; the picture perfect Norman Rockwell holiday dinner; a clean (!), perfect house; giving the perfect gift to everyone on the list. . .   These goals can be very distracting for parents, who then race around faster and faster to accomplish the image. Kids can get unintentionally put on hold, noticed sometimes only when they tantrum.

And the reality of holidays is often quite different!! Shopping in crowded, noisy malls for long periods; more family activities like parties or long dinners; extra guests for the holidays; bedtimes often get later and later; the anticipation of what gifts they will be getting; sharing new gifts; familiar routines that change suddenly and dramatically; and the sweet, sugary foods that often accompany holidays can excite children to a fever pitch, resulting in tears, tantrums, and aggressive behaviors.

What’s a parent to do at holiday time?

The holidays need to be simplified!

Parents can lower their own expectations, and focus their holiday family energy on giving to others in simple ways.

  • For example, rather than buying gifts, kids can make gifts of their own very easily.

For grandparents, a holiday picture the child has drawn; a video of the child doing everyday activities like reading a story, dancing to music or riding a trike; or an audiotape of the child singing holiday songs will be treasured for years.

Help with holiday cookies for the neighbors. The cookies are much more charming if kids help! Or giving neighbors a gift certificate for a free car wash or dog walk is always appreciated.

Parents are discouraged when they hear their child with the “Gimme disease”. At the first symptom of the disease, usually “I want . . .”, it is helpful to shift the focus to what kids can give.

Contributing food, clothing or toys to needy families, driving as their parents deliver Meals on Wheels, contributing to the food drive for homeless dogs. . . these activities shift the emphasis on giving to others rather than getting.

My daughter’s school class adopted a family for the holidays, and collected gifts, food and clothing for this family. The excitement on their faces when they delivered the gift box to this family was joyous to see. Parents can’t buy this kind of joy and pleasure for their kids with all the gifts in the world.

All these activities make the holidays memorable because the kids are giving to others, rather than counting their presents.

  • Parents can try to stay with the normal daily routines as much as possible.

Bedtime routines, bath time routines, routines for getting dressed, routines for dinner preparation, etc. need to be as consistent as possible to help kids stay steady. This is especially true if the family will be traveling for the holidays. I’ve even taken sheets from the kids’ beds on holiday trips so that there is some familiarity to the day for them. 

  • Planning holiday activities that will become tradition.

For example, our family looks forward to our holiday tree for the birds, with pinecones covered with peanut butter cut with butter and rolled in birdseed, and hung on the tree in the back yard. Or other special activities like hot cocoa before bedtime in front of the fire, special holiday pajamas, walking through Zilker Park to see the holiday lights, singing special songs, reading special stories, planting the spring Easter Bunny garden…kids treasure these activities far more than toys.

Even with such special holidays activities, gifts are likely to be part of the celebration. Again, focusing on what gifts kids can make for others is helpful, Cooking breakfast in bed for Mom, a backrub certificate for Dad. . . simple personal gifts will be much more appreciated. And the excitement of planning something special for others is contagious. 

  • When giving gifts for kids, what toys are best to give to children?

Toys that involve children are the best. Try to avoid battery operated anything, with the exception of voice recorders, since children can talk into them and tell their own stories.

Wood building blocks, legos, dolls that don’t speak or walk, toys that encourage creative play like toy cooking utensils and stoves and dress-up clothes, chalk, crayons and markers, stuffed animals, and books are all recommended. And don’t forget active presents like giant bubble wands, kites, wheeled toys like trikes, nerf balls and bird watching kits, to give kids appropriate outlets for all of their excess energy!

The toys that need kids to actively play with them, rather than stand there and passively watch, are the best.

Happy Holidays and let us know how we can best support you!