The holidays are upon us, and while that can mean fun and relaxation for many families, it can also be a source of stress, anxiety, and disappointment. Especially when we put pressure on ourselves to create wonderful and special memories during a pandemic!

Holiday time often brings out the best—and the worst—in us parents, as well as in our children. This can seem inevitable as we give up normal routines and try to accommodate the needs of many people. It is possible to avoid some pitfalls and make this season truly satisfying for your family with some planning, intention, and awareness. Here are some helpful and proven strategies to make this holiday season safe, simple, and meaningful:

  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, but it is a good opportunity to remind them that you are doing what is best and safest for your own family now. Holidays can be a wonderful opportunity for practicing setting boundaries!
  2. Have one or more family discussions to review plans, making sure your children fully understand and are prepared for what activities they will or will not be participating in this year, who they will see in person or on video, and any expectations you have for them including safety precautions. Balance this out by letting your children choose holiday activities, giving each child the opportunity to provide input on the plan.
  3. 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 it may be tempting to stay up late. Stick to the plan!
  4. Create opportunities for your children to be generous as well as to be helpful and feel competent. Being generous can take many forms, from purchasing and wrapping gifts to donate, working at a food bank, or making cards and gifts for family and friends. Helping to decorate, cook, serve, and clean up should be part of your child’s 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.
  5. This time of year gives us a precious opportunity to create rituals and traditions that exemplify our values and 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 safe, simple, meaningful, and compassionate, for ourselves and those we care for.