11 Easy Ways to Have Happy Holidays with Young Children
1 November 2017
As both a preschool mom as well as a preschool and kindergarten teacher, I remember so well the three-month period beginning in early October. Holidays seemed to take over everything. If I wasn’t obsessing over Halloween costumes, I was thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas and all they involved. As a teacher, it was a challenge to keep children calm, focused and to maintain their daily routine. From my experiences as an educator and parent, I learned that there are indeed simple ways to survive the holidays with preschoolers. Here are 11 things I’ve found to help families parents stay in the spirit of the season, while being appropriate for their preschooler’s development:
- Watch your expectations. Think ahead about what behaviors are developmentally fitting for your little one and plan accordingly. For example, if you know your two-year-old won’t make it quietly through the long dinner at Grandma’s, arrange for a teenage cousin or another family member to play outside with your little one when she gets fussy. Remember that kids will be kids, always and forever. So expect your preschooler to behave like a preschooler. Explain to family members ahead of time if you anticipate certain behaviors that could be disruptive. “George didn’t have his nap, so he may get cranky before we’re finished dinner. I’ll take him outside to play if that happens.”
- Be respectful of your preschooler. The holidays can be a very overwhelming time for everyone. Try to imagine yourself in your child’s shoes. Do you remember what it was like to kiss old Auntie Joan that you never met before? Or eat Grandma’s fruit cake? Or sit still for a long family meal? Your little one has the right to say no when their belly’s full or if an adult wants to kiss them and they feel uncomfortable. These are important limits to help children learn to set. Be your child’s best advocate. Help them protect their space by reading their body language and protecting their space and needs. If your child is generally introverted, my blog, Introverted Children - Quiet Treasures, has lots more easy ideas for how to advocate quiet children's special needs.
- Take time to explain the festivities. Often, in the rush of so many activities, parents forget that preschoolers need calm, leisurely explanations of the customs and rituals of their particular holiday traditions. Whenever you can, allow a little extra time to answer the questions young children will have about all the festive goings on. For example, take time to explain why you will visit Santa the next day. You can help prepare your little one for being with a new or large group of family members by calmly explaining that you will have dinner with them on Thanksgiving day. Then, chat about some of your family members who will share the day with you. Introducing relatives this way will ease your preschooler into what is sure to be a big day for them.
- Be sure your preschooler is having regular meals. Often times, with family mealtimes scheduled at unusual times, such as a 10 o'clock brunch versus their usual 7 o'clock breakfast, it might be tempting to skip your preschooler’s regularly scheduled meals. All parents know that hungry children often don’t behave well. So, asking your hungry child to wait to eat and then expecting them behave nicely too can be a recipe for disaster. Keep healthy snacks, such as fruits, nuts or vegetables, in your bag or car on your holiday travels. If you are expecting unusual foods to be served consider feeding your preschooler ahead of the meal. Or, be sure to bring along a dish you know they will eat-- like my daughter’s favorite, mashed potatoes.
- Be mindful of how many sugary treats your child is eating. Eat holiday goodies like fudge, cookies and other baked goodies in small portions, like a tablespoon or two size. Instead of soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks, give your preschooler water when they are thirsty to help them stay hydrated. Limit sugary treats, if possible, to early in the day and at lunch time. Be aware that it takes time for the energy boosts that sweets create to wear off. Too much sugar will inhibit your child’s ability to sleep well at night. Or it can mean too much energy when you least need it.
- Sleep is important. During the holiday season, days can be very long. Because of all of the holiday activities, your preschooler might wake up early, excited, skip a nap because of a party, and then have a later than usual bedtime because they are too excited to fall asleep easily. Preserve your child’s time to sleep, even if that means scheduling the drive to Grandma’s during nap time, so you can be sure they get in that critical hour. Tired preschoolers are often cranky. And it’s not fun for your child-- and the people around them-- if they’re grumpy. It also can be difficult for preschoolers to accept going to bed at the end of a big day. So end your busy day with some calm-down time. Talking quietly, reading a story, or singing a song related to the holidays can help your (and you!) child relax.
- Stick to your child’s routines as much as possible. Young children thrive on structure and predictability. They need consistency and sameness in their daily lives as well as stimulation. Too many new events or crowded venues can often overwhelm them, causing them to be frightened or over stimulated. When the balance gets out of whack, as it invariably does during the holiday season, everyone can feel out of sorts. You can easily tell this is happening since they aren’t acting as they normally would. If you hear yourself saying, “He’s usually so happy around people, I don’t understand why ...” is a clue! So do your best to maintain your daily rituals, such as taking a walk after dinner or a bath time before bed.
- Adults, pay attention to your routines, too. Try not to put unnecessary pressure on yourself and do your best to stop before you get exhausted. As much as humanly possible, concentrate on one thing at a time. Take a little time for yourself if you are feeling overwhelmed, it can help you rejuvenate and allow yourself time to recharge your batteries. And remember, children need this kind of time too. So allow yourself and your child a little time, just 10 or 15 minutes will do, each day of your holiday for a bit of quiet rest on your own.
- Remember that very simple things satisfy young children. Family traditions, at a young age, don’t have to be elaborate, expensive, or even require lots of outings. Remember, preschoolers are reassured by repetition. So keep it simple, keep it manageable. Baking cookies, creating homemade presents, making personal thank-you cards are all great activities for you and your preschooler to do at home together. Check out our activity collection, Beyond the Fridge for lots of fun ideas for do-it-yourself homemade gifts.
- Create opportunities for your little one to give and not just receive. Learning to give to others is important social learning for your little one. Your preschooler can gather their gently used toys and donate them to charity or pass them along to a cousin or friend. And gift-giving can be made more meaningful when your child takes part in creating the gift itself. Your little one can create a piece of artwork, string beads for a necklace, decorate a picture frame, make a video of their favorite story, bake treats, decorate an ornament … and the list goes on and on. So, share their joy in creating things for others. You can discover even more simple, creative gift ideas in our Skilly-do Print Making, Painting and Constructing activities.
- Give the gift of presence. The gift of your time and attention gives your little one holiday experiences and memories to cherish. Rather than a big family meal that involves lots of time, preparation and stress, plan a family outing to a neighborhood park. When my daughter Claire was little, we all visited our local ice skating rink and had a family skating party. Or, you could plan a family trip to a museum and enjoy seeing new and different things together. Read your preschooler’s favorite book with the whole family. Your child, relatives and friends absolutely can get into the holiday spirit these less expensive and less stressful settings.
I hope these tips help will make your holidays even more enjoyable with your preschooler. Have any tips to add? Please do! And to understand even more about how to make holidays appropriate for your preschooler’s developmental level, read my blog, The Promise of Your Child’s Early Development - Make the Most of It.