Parent Tips for the HOLIDAYS!

Author: Debbie Houston

Parent Tips for the HOLIDAY BREAK!

In the midst of all the fun, excitement and upcoming plans for the holidays, are you or your children feeling a bit stressed? I wrote these suggestions to parents in 2012 and it has been requested each year since then. It seems, we all need some reminders and holiday tips!

Imagine this for a child…
Their familiar routine is no longer.
They will not go to school for 2 weeks.
Their bedtime is undependable.
They get less sleep.
They are with new people they don’t know.
They are fed lots of cookies and candy.
Their parents are not around as much, and they have more babysitters.
They are taken to new and exciting events, oftentimes several in a week or over a weekend.
Their parents are busy and stressed and do not have as much time and patience.
They are filled with energy and surging excitement about upcoming events.
They are given gifts and encouraged to open them and receive them with great excitement and gratitude.
They travel…in cars and on planes…oftentimes for hours.
Their diet changes for mealtimes, often with different foods.
Their mealtime changes too, often much later and they are hungry!
Their parents are requiring new manners, reverent behaviors and they have to kiss relatives they do not even know.
They do not get a voice in most of this.
Their parents experience all these things too!
Sound like a nightmare? That is what the holidays are like for many children! So, what can parents do to help their child enjoy the holidays and make it possible that parents get to enjoy them too?

Here are a few realistic suggestions:

Talk about events before and as they are happening. When children know ahead of time or when parents acknowledge and verbalize this for children, it helps them process and it “normalizes” the situation for them.

“Today, we will not go to school like we usually do; we will go back to school another day or next week. Today we will go and make cookies with our neighbors. We will all work together to stir the ingredients and cut the cookies. Then we will wait while they are baking. That’s when you and John will play. After that we will enjoy eating 2 cookies and putting them in bags for our friends.”

When you talk about expectations beforehand,  ask questions as a much as possible so your child has to do the thinking and together, you come up with the plan.

“When we go to grandma’s house in Virginia, what do you think needs to happen to keep everyone safe? What kind of feet will we need to use in the house? What about our voices? What do you think would be the best voice to use in Grandma’s house? Grandma has many pretty things on her tables. How can we keep those safe? What could you do if you wanted to touch or see one?”

Whenever possible, honor your child’s bedtime and diet. Knowing it will not be possible to do this consistently throughout the holidays, please don’t be rigid about this; rigidity with children does more harm than good. You might offer to bring macaroni and cheese, fruit or something they like to the family dinner; you might bring the pajamas to Uncle Ali’s so you can put them on before you head home. You might start your gathering an hour early to end a bit earlier too.

Take care of yourself. When you are rested and experiencing less stress, you will be a better mom or dad for your child. Acknowledge, accept and allow yourself to feel all the emotions that are often a part of holidays: excitement, exhaustion, anxiety, disappointment, anticipation, and even grief and sadness can be part of the feeling aspect of the holidays. Acknowledge them and then be present in the moment and grateful for what you have now.

Give your child a voice and choice when it is possible. For children who have a part in family traditions and rituals, those times become meaningful, significant and important. When your children have important, purposeful roles in family rituals and traditions, it affirms their roles in your family and adds purpose and significance to their lives. The familiar repetition of a tradition or ritual brings meaning and connection to your family. For children there is comfort in belonging and of course, there is a sense of wonder, magic, and celebration in many families. Ask for their ideas about parties, projects, traditions, trips or dinners; find out how they want to contribute.

“What is something you want to include in our holiday tradition? What is your favorite part of our celebration?

What food do you want to have on Friday? What do you want to happen at our family party?

When we go to Aunt Betty’s today what can you do to keep from getting bored? What can we do now to prepare for that? If you packed an “Aunt Betty’s Fun Box” what could you put in it to enjoy there?

Everyone is important in our family; what important part of our dinner do you want to help with—setting the table, washing the vegetables, writing the placecards or making decorations for our table?”

Choices such as these are appropriate too:

“Would you like to make a craft or play a board game when your cousins come over to our house?

Would you like to learn a song or read a holiday story to share with our family?

Would you like to have apple cider or sparkeling water at the party?

Which sweater would you like to wear to Grandma’s—this blue one or the green one?”

Make it your goal to ENJOY every experience! That means you will be present, thankful, flexible, laugh, smile, hug, and “roll with it” as you make family memories together.

Here’s What to Do When you “blow it.” If you find yourself yelling, shaming, blaming and arguing, take time to cool off yourself and allow your child time to feel better too. Then do the repair! Apologize, acknowledge YOUR part in the blow-up, and talk about what YOU will do differently. Hug, ask for forgiveness, reconnect and commit to doing what you said.


The Holiday Break is a time for making wonderful family memories and experiencing pure joy together. It is a time to grow emotionally, socially and spiritually. It is a time to “kick back” and “chill” and sleep in (if possible), play games, and read together. Most of all, it is a time to be grateful for the gift of your family.

I’m grateful for my family and my Virginia Chance School family too.
Peace and joy,

Debbie Houston
Head of School