The holidays are full of events and moments that can be hard to navigate for families with kids. Traveling, gifting galore, hosting guests in your own home, and eating new foods can be factors that make the season as chaotic as it is peaceful.
It’s tempting to dread the holidays for that reason — it can be a lot of work to wrangle our kids through it all. Despite the work though, there’s something to be said for the special opportunities that the holidays present.
The unique features of the holidays can create opportunities to craft perceptions in our kids that will serve them and their relationships well for the rest of their lives. What better time of year to make a concentrated effort to show them the value of the people in their lives?
Help Them Recognize the People Behind the Activity
For a kid during the holidays, there are a lot new things, foods, and experiences. We spend our days buying and giving gifts, joining holiday meals, and attending parties. Most kids do better when they’re operating within the confines of a pattern, so the holidays can be tough to navigate.
Late nights and a lot of unfamiliar faces can make for hard meals and bedtimes. But despite the extra set of challenges that parents face, the holidays do present the perfect chance to teach kids about the definition and the value of family and friends.
Behind every late night, off-kilter gift and unfamiliar meal, there are people who matter.
Show them what goes into meal planning. Kids are notorious for being picky eaters. If that’s true of your offspring, and you have holiday dinners on the calendar, prepare them to respond graciously.
Show them what goes into it so they understand what it means to the person in the kitchen. Take them grocery shopping for a large meal. Show them the list of ingredients, and then include them in every step of the preparation. Give them that time-consuming experience to fall back on when they’re tempted to cringe in the face of Great Aunt Betty’s mayo-jello casserole.
Walk them through gift-receiving. For the youngest kids, the dynamic of gift-giving will likely go over their heads. But even as toddlers, you can prepare them to deal with the tradition with the right outlook, and with older kids you can teach them to consider gifts thoughtfully.
Whether your child (or you) likes a gift or not, the response should be the same: they should remember that the gift reflects the heart of the giver.
For kids 3-8: Kids this age should begin to learn that regardless of how they feel about a gift, the appropriate response is to thank the giver for present.
For kids 9-13: Kids in this age range are old enough to understand that buying a gift means that the giver went out of their way to consider the child. The appropriate response is not just to thank the giver for the gift, but also for the thought that went into it.
For kids 14-18: At this point, kids are able to totally grasp that gifts are expressions of love and appreciation, and their thank you should reflect that. Remind them to thank the giver for being a special part of their lives.
Meals and gifts alike are ways in which the people around us show us that they care. In varying degrees, you can teach your kids to consider how the cook or gift-giver made the effort to appreciate them.
When Visiting Others or Having Visitors
Often, the reason having company or being company doesn’t go well with kids is because kids don’t know what to expect. If they’ve been prepared in advance, they’re far more likely to respond well.
Tell them how long. If they’re sharing their room with a cousin for a weekend, make sure that they understand beforehand how long the visit will last — just through the weekend, all week, etc.
Tell them where. Just like the rest of us, kids can have a tough time adapting to a new set-up. If Christmas break will be spent somewhere other than your home, make sure you don’t forget to give them a heads up.
Tell them what’s expected. Perhaps the most important thing to note is that it’s not fair to have expectations if those expectations aren’t clearly communicated beforehand. Whether it be sharing their toys or sharing their bathroom, tell them what and why it’s important.
In the same way that literal gift-giving communicates love, sharing space and showing hospitality communicates it even more strongly. Our kids have the privilege of living in a time when grandparents are living longer and can remain an active part of the holidays, and dear friends who live far away are accessible by plane ride.
Send the Right Message
The clearest message you can send kids about how to respond to holiday chaos, is the one you send via your own behavior. If you have expectations for how your kids will respond in certain situations, make sure your own actions lineup with those expectations.
If you encourage them to be kind to Aunt Helen, but then grumble about her in front of your children, that’s the lesson they’ll remember: people can be quantified by how inconvenient they make one’s life.
Make a commitment to demonstrate the attitude you hope your children are able to express, and when you’re unable to follow through, apologize. There’s no sense in looking for perfect behavior from them or from yourself, there is sense in responding to failure humbly.
Often, kids act out during the holidays, because they’re maxed out; they’re tired and overstimulated. Adults who are maxed out may be tempted to deal by having a little too much grown-up punch at the holiday party; if that’s you, have a plan in place to remain sober, and remain a good example.
Ultimately, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season flows largely from our desire to connect with others, and that’s a commendable thing. It’s something that in and of itself is a valuable example to set forth. The risk is in letting the nitty gritty of a full schedule encroach on the time we have with others in the form of irritation and stress.
But if we consistently look at the important people in our lives who are visiting, gifting, and cooking, and we remind our kids to look there too, it will relieve a lot of stress. It will replace frustration with gratitude, and it will help orient even the youngest among us to embrace the holidays with the important things in focus.