The holidays are a fun time for children and adults alike. But, even the best things can be overwhelming. It is easy for children to be swept up in the excitement of the holidays, especially because this time often leads to a disruption of their normal daily schedules and routines. 

Help prepare your child for the holiday season by communicating what to expect and what is expected of them when it comes to behavior, holiday gifts, and more. As always, model the behavior you hope to see. Know that if you are running around like a turkey, they will be doing the same.

How to manage your child’s expectations around the holidays

The best way to manage your child’s expectations is to be direct with them. Whether it comes to holiday gifts, behavior around bedtime, visits to family, or traveling, or interactions with siblings, your child can only benefit from more information. When their normal routines are disrupted, children are more prone to tantrums. Help keep the holidays happy with these tips.

Managing your child’s behavior around the holidays

Behavior is communication. You can tell a child is feeling overwhelmed by an abundance of gifts, a party, a loud and crowded room, or an unfamiliar routine away from home by the way they are behaving. 

Before you enter the new situation, give your child an appropriate amount of advanced notice as to how a special day is going to play out. Draw a little sketch to share the plan if you think that will help them understand what is coming and what to expect. Let them know what you expect from them behavior-wise during this time.

Even with the advanced notice, anticipate tantrums, pushback, and whining. If that happens:

  • Try not to react with frustration. 
  • Push away the feeling that you are supposed to react firmly for fear of being judged by family or friends. 
  • Instead, get down to your child’s level and respond with curiosity and a warm, supportive tone. 
  • Try to solve the problem with them and let them know that you know this is a lot and that you can help them by stepping out of the room and sitting somewhere else for a bit.

Managing your child’s expectations around holiday gifts

Gift giving and receiving is a very personal parenting choice. Decide with the adults in your family the amount that will be spent, how and when gifts will be given, what is coming from Santa and/or other family members, and how much say the children should have in what they will receive. Open and honest conversations with your partner and other family members regarding what you all feel is appropriate for your family is key.

Once you have had these conversations internally, you can start to speak with your children about holiday gifts. Let them know how you expect them to behave when they receive gifts from you and other family members. Once again, advanced notice is important so that they have time to prepare themselves.

Here are some tips to help your child with expectations around holiday gifts

  • Try to foresee what you know will be tricky. 
  • ~Maybe a new sibling getting gifts will be hard for your first child. 
  • ~Address this in advance by explaining what will happen and what the child can do when they feel those jealous feelings coming on. Get ahead of it to avoid an explosion on the special day. 
  • Be upfront.
  • ~If you know your child wants something that they won't be receiving, like an iPad, be very clear about that so they can move on and, yes, be disappointed, but not hold onto any false hope.
  • Come up with an alternative.
  • ~If you and your partner don’t approve of an iPad for your child, you might want to come up with an alternative gift that scratches the same itch, like an audio device, e-reader, or camera. 

For more support on keeping your child’s gift expectations in check, see our guide.

Teach your child about how to receive a gift graciously

  • Kids say the darndest things, but around the holidays, it is important to remind your child to be gracious when receiving gifts. 
  • You can explain that even if they do not love the gift, they should thank the person who gave it to them because that person put a lot of thought and effort into the gift.
  • Encourage them to comment on an element of the gift that they do like (like the color, wrapping, or idea behind it) as a way to show their appreciation.
  • Drive your point home by giving an example of a time you had to do this, too. It will make your child laugh and ensure that they understand the point is to be appreciative of the kind gesture and effort.

Show that the holiday season is about giving as well as receiving

Model the importance of gift giving by including your children in the process of giving a family member a gift from start to finish. Work with your child to think about that person and what they might like, shop for the gift, wrap it, write the card, and then actually give the gift to the person. This will help your child receive gifts graciously if they know how much work can go into giving a gift. 

Putting it all together

The best piece of advice we can give to help your family have a happy holiday season is to be prepared. Beyond preparing your child for gracious gift receiving, you should also prepare yourself and your family for a disruption in your routine.

Keep these tips in mind to be prepared this holiday season 

  • Traveling (either on vacation or just to a family member’s house for dinner) can be tough for children because there are so many unknowns. Bring your child’s comforts along (like their Lovey, favorite drink cup, books, etc) so they have something familiar with them. Use our guide for more family travel tips.
  • Keep this in mind if you have people over as well. Any change to your child’s normal existence will be tough, so having their favorite comforts with them will help.
  • Create a “break space” where your child can go for a break from the action. Put their water bottle there, maybe a little snack, a stack of books, and some crayons. Show it to them at the beginning of the night so they know they have a cozy nook to retreat to for a short time if they feel they need a little rest from the action.
  • Prioritize their schedules and routines as much as you can. If you are staying over at a family member’s house or hotel, try to keep their morning routine, snack and meal times, and bedtime schedule as similar as possible. This will help them be more comfortable, plus regular sleep and eating will help mitigate tantrums.

The holiday season is a wonderful time for children and adults. With the right preparation and expectation management, you can avoid tantrums and enjoy more time together as a family. Happy holidays, everyone!

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