The Winter holiday break is upon us, and for many families that can mean fun, relaxation, time with beloved family and friends, but also stress, anxiety, pressure, disappointment, and irritable and exhausted kids!

Holiday break time often brings out the best—and the worst—in us parents, as well as in our children and all those around us. This can seem inevitable as we give up normal routines and structure, try to please and accommodate the needs of many people, put expectations on ourselves to create wonderful experiences and special memories, and sometimes travel long distances to be with those we love.

It is possible to avoid some pitfalls and make this season truly satisfying for your family with some planning and awareness. Let’s try to focus on and implement some helpful and proven strategies this year:

  1. Have one or more family discussions to review plans, making sure your children fully understand and are prepared for what activities they will be participating in, who they will be with, and any expectations you have for them. At the same time make sure that they have some choices, and that each child has the opportunity for input on some part of the plan.
  1. Maintain bedtime schedules as rigorously as you possibly can. Confirm with your children that in order for them to have the most fun, they will be keeping their regular bedtime even though that means sometimes stopping or leaving an activity before they are ready and willing. If time changes are part of your plans, it is even more important to get your kids on a schedule quickly and firmly, even though it might require sacrificing some fun time.
  1. Simplify by lowering your expectations dramatically. Focus on one to three family traditions that you want to continue or establish and let go of the rest. This might require some explaining to grandparents or other family members who are extremely disappointed and perhaps judgmental, but it is a good opportunity to remind them that you are doing what is best for your own family now. Holidays can be a wonderful opportunity for practicing setting boundaries!
  1. Create opportunities for your children to be generous as well as to be helpful and feel competent. This can take many forms, from purchasing and wrapping gifts to donate, working at a food bank or soup kitchen, or making cards and gifts for family and friends. Helping to decorate, cook, serve, and clean up should all be part of their responsibilities no matter their age, or whether you are hosts or guests. Making sure your children are an integral part of the activities and festivities helps them feel connected, important, and grateful.
  1. Whether or not you practice a religion, or are affiliated with a congregation, this time of year gives us a precious opportunity to create rituals and traditions that exemplify our values and spiritual beliefs. Our children want to know what we think about the big questions, what we hold dear, and what we strive for—in our homes, community, and the world. Sharing these with our children is the true gift of this season!

As we end this very tumultuous year when so many of us have struggled to maintain a sense of hope and optimism for our children, let’s create holidays that are simple, meaningful, and compassionate, for ourselves and those we care for.

We know that the holidays can be a difficult time. If you or your child could benefit from counseling or support, please contact JFCS’ Center for Children and Youth at 1-888-927-0839 or contact us online.