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3 Tips for Holiday Parenting

Strategies to manage the mess of holiday stress.

Key points

  • Adjust expectations for yourself and your family as needed.
  • Be ready to pivot.
  • Live in the moments of joy.

“Here we go. Pivot. Pivot!”-Ross from Friends (EpisodeThe One with the Cop)

For many, the holidays are full of joy and stress. As parents, we often run around with thousands of tasks on our lists, juggling competing demands. It can sometimes feel like we are spinning in circles trying to create the best holiday experience for our kids, family, and self.

Meghan Marsac
Source: Meghan Marsac

The burnt cookie picture in this post is mine. My kids and nieces spent a considerable amount of time decorating them. As you can see from the picture, these cookies weren’t just a little overdone. This batch was completely inedible.

My dad found them in the oven and walked out to show us all. When I remember this moment, I remember how long we all laughed and how the cookie incident of 2021 has become a family memory that lives on. The fact that we had to throw them out didn’t matter in the end.

Tips for Parenting During the Holiday Craziness

1. Adjust expectations: Take a minute to dream about your “perfect” holiday. Then dial it back. Dial it back again. And dial it back one more time. Adjust your expectations for how your kids will behave. There will likely be moments of whining, crying, and meltdowns as they are off routines, in different environments, and often more tired than normal.

Adjust your expectations about how your kids will react to special activities or gifts. We all have parenting moments where everyone seems excited, and then it just doesn’t work out. Decide to take your kids ice skating, and then one refuses to get on the ice? Get excited to go to the trampoline park, and one of your kids says, “I’m bored,” fifteen minutes after you get there.

Finally find that “perfect” gift that they “had to have” that they open, glance at, and set it aside. Kids’ reactions aren’t always what we expect, and it can be hard to embrace the fun part of the activities when one child isn’t fully enjoying it. Adjust your expectations for yourself. You are only one person with limited time and energy.

2. Pivot: Sometimes, the plans just don’t work. Sick kid? Sick family member? Babysitter cancels? Giant ice storm? Toddler fell asleep at dinner? Teenager can’t deal with any more people? Family fight? Be open to changing your plans to make the holidays work the best for you and your family. You may not be able to make everyone happy. Keep in mind what’s best for your family. If you have to change your plans, give yourself and your kids time to adjust. There may be disappointments all around, or some family members might like the changes, and others might be upset about the changes.

3. Grab onto Moments of Joy: This can be especially important when the day or holiday season isn’t going as hoped. Can you find a moment to sit in holiday peace? Enjoy holiday decorations? Savor the flavor of a traditional family recipe? Get a hug or snuggle from your child? Appreciate your child’s joy? Grab onto those moments. Instead of replaying having to throw out burnt cookies, replay the laughter and moments full of love.

My Child Is Sick or Has a Medical Condition

Take the tips above and triple them. When you have a sick child or a child with many health needs, holiday traditions may need to be adjusted, and the time you have to pull together, holiday plans are less. Accept help from others to pull together a holiday that works for your family.

The ideas in this blog and resources are not a replacement for mental health care. If you are worried about your own or your child’s behaviors or emotions, reach out to your doctor for help.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

More from Meghan L. Marsac, Ph.D.
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