by Ruth Freeman, LCSW

  • Do you get stressed about the holidays? 
  • Are you the holiday wizard who tries to make it magical for all? 
  • Wish the whole thing was already over?!? 

We’ve got good news for you about the holidays. 

Families who celebrate special occasions are more likely to raise kids who have a strong sense of identity, are physically healthy, succeed in school and have close ties to their families. So don’t think that these family celebrations are irrelevant. The more meaningful older teenagers think their family rituals are, the more likely they are to have a strong sense of themselves and even be able to handle the stress of going to college in freshman year. These special occasions help give kids a solid foundation and a feeling of being safe and secure in the world. So make sure those Scrooges in your life get the message. Another bit of very good news is that families who share preparations for holidays are more likely to continue those traditions. That means ideally no one person is running the show or doing all the work. (I think I hear a lot of big sighs of relief out there.) 

So what makes the holidays meaningful? Don’t be confused – you, your family and friends are the most important part of your child’s holiday experiences. The people they love are what they want most, really. So manage expectations so you can be really “present” – relaxed, focusing fully on your time together with joy. Don’t expect your holiday to look like a TV show or a Hallmark movie. Those are make-believe. The time it takes you to make all those fabulous creations is time taken away from your family. How it feels during the holidays is much more important than how it looks. 

Plan ahead and make lists together:

  1. Think about what you want the season to be like and ask the kids about what makes the holidays enjoyable for them. Really listen, you might be surprised. Invite them to list all the activities they like. Talk about the activities that you like. Then as a family make a calendar of the activities that you can all agree on. Invite the kids to decorate the calendar and talk about them with enthusiasm as they are coming up. 
  2. Then invite the kids to make a list of what they really want as gifts. Ask about each gift – what do they think they’ll like about it. Be curious and interested. Once that list is complete, be done with it. 
  3. Invite the kids to think about what they want to give other people that can’t be bought. Think together about things that they can make or gift certificates for services they will provide to people like mowing lawns or making them a meal or just spending time together. In our family, a child might get to be the parent for the day or someone might offer to do someone else’s chores for a week.

Consider declaring a positive intention to handle holidays stress – take regular breaks, give up the holiday wizard role, notice perfectionism and expect intense emotions including grief. This is a time of year when we remember loved ones who are no longer with us or reflect on dreams that were lost or simply have to face some predictable family issues. Reach out for support and stay true to the plans that your family has created. Keep it simple, celebrate the little moments with your kids and remember to have fun!

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