How to Enjoy Stress-Free Holidays with Kids

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Before having children of my own, the approach of the holidays meant putting up Christmas lights, snuggling in warm sweaters, and looking forward to time off of work to spend with my family.  As a parent of two young children, October signals the beginning of a two month marathon of shopping, whiny kids, writing letters to Santa and experiencing true magic through my children’s eyes, volunteering at school parties and buying tons of food, and trying to spend quality time with tons of family members. All while somehow finding time to sleep, and more importantly, to get my kids to sleep.  The holiday season can bring so much joy, but for parents of young children, it can also bring a lot of stress! Whether you are celebrating Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Years, or Festivus, these tips will help you have a stress-free celebration with your family!

Tip #1: Know Your Priorities

Take time now to define your family’s priorities for the holiday season.  Many of us fall into a trap of people-pleasing and over-scheduling, and become so stressed that we don’t enjoy the many planned activities.  A chaotic holiday season is a choice, not a given.  Instead, make a holiday “bucket list” with your family and decide what activities are most important, and don’t be afraid to say no to everything else!  Protect your time so that you have the space and energy to do what matters most to you and your family, and so that you can actually enjoy it!

It can be hard to say no!  Here are 8 ways you can respectfully and politely decline invitations for activities that do not fit your priorities for the season.

Tip #2: Create a holiday budget.

A huge source of stress during the holiday season is money!  Many people find themselves trapped in a cycle of over-spending and greet the new year with piles of new debt, but it does not have to be that way.

Start early by making a list of who you would like to buy gifts for, and how much you want to spend on each person.  Total up the list and make adjustments if you do not have enough money to buy all the gifts you’d like to. Take advantage of great sales, and make cuts to your gift list until it is within your budget.  Make sure to factor into your budget funds for any travel that you may be doing, and for food to bring to parties and gatherings. Many parents like to help contribute to a classroom or daycare holiday party, so consider including this in your plan.  Take advantage of the fact that you are a parent of an adorable young child (or children!) Have your child help you make holiday greeting cards or gifts for loved ones, or frame a recent picture of your cutie(s) to give to family members.

The holiday season does not have to be an expensive and stressful time of year that requires you to dig deeper into debt.  If you would like more help getting control of your finances, we highly recommend The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.  He also has a great online program called Financial Peace University that has helped tons of people experience financial freedom, including the author of this article!

Tip 3: Be Proactive About Potential Tricky Spots

The holiday season is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with our family, but let’s face it, sometimes those family gatherings can be a source of drama and stress.  If there are potential problems lurking in the shadows, don’t wait until a huge family gathering to have it explode. Instead, be proactive and set limits with troublesome family members.  Have honest conversations about any problems with those individuals ahead of time, so that the issue can be resolved peacefully and without an audience.

Many schools and daycares are closed during the holidays, so start arranging alternate childcare or schedule time off of work now so that you aren’t scrambling last minute.  If you are attending any parties or gatherings, ask in advance what you can bring and how you can help. Avoid being assigned a huge chore last minute by volunteering to be in charge of things you really enjoy making, things that you children can help you make, or things that you can prepare ahead of time and freeze.

What caused you the most stress last year?  Write a list of these stresses, and think of ways to proactively address them to avoid feeling stressed out for the next two months.

Tip #4: Prepare your Kids for the Holiday Season

Holidays can be an emotional roller coaster for our kids.  They are so excited about presents and vacations and candy canes, but they may also feel anxious about being around large crowds, traveling, or having their routine turned upside down.

Use a family calendar to help your kids adjust to the changing schedule.  Kids feel much more comfortable when they can visually see upcoming changes to their routine.  Try to keep bedtime and your routine as normal as you can, when you can.

Set expectations for your kids at family gatherings.  Remind them of the rules, and where and what they can play with, etc.  It helps to have a “kid area” with age appropriate toys that the kids know they can play in.  It can also help to bring some familiar healthy foods for your child to eat at family events. Adding some familiar favorites to their plate may help your child feel more comfortable to try new dishes.

Tip #5: The Holidays are for You, Too!

Many parents feel a “Pinterest pressure” to have their house, kids, food, pets, etc. all looking perfectly themed, cleaned, and poised during the holiday season, which is impossible because no human parent has actually achieved that!  You don’t have to be perfect. Set reasonable expectations for yourself. Make sure you are taking good care of yourself during the holidays by eating well and getting enough sleep as much as you can. Spend time seeing the world through your child’s eyes; reliving the wonder and magic of this time of year.  If you’re stuck doing chores or wrapping gifts, create a cozy atmosphere for yourself by lighting candles, listening to your favorite holiday music, or sitting by a fireplace. Take moments to just sit and enjoy each moment of this special time of year.

Tip #6: The Holidays are not Always Joyful

For some, the holidays are not a time of joy and celebration, but a time of loneliness, missing loved ones, and grief.  If that describes you this year, that is completely okay. Be kind to yourself; give yourself space and grace to cope. Seek help for yourself so that you can heal.  Get books and advice on how to help your kids face any feelings of grief or loss that they are experiencing during this time. Reach out to people around you for help and connection.

Tip #7: Give Back

Some of my family’s favorite holiday traditions are when we involved our children in helping others in need.  Look for opportunities to teach your kids how much they do have, and how wonderful it can be to help others. Operation Christmas Child is very fun to do with even young children.  Our kids have helped pick out toys to fill a shoebox for a child their same age each year, and it has become a wonderful tradition.  Look for local opportunities to volunteer to help the less fortunate with your children, and experience the true joy and meaning of the holiday season.

The holidays do not have to be the most stressful and expensive time of year.  By following these tips, you can truly experience a fun, heart-warming, and memorable holiday season with your kids without all the stress.  We hope you have a very happy holiday season!