Five tips for happy holidays with young children

The holiday season can be an overwhelming time for children. Help keep your holidays happy with these quick tips!

Help your children get through the holidays with these stress relieving tips. Photo credit: Carrie Shrier | MSU Extension

Help your children get through the holidays with these stress relieving tips. Photo credit: Carrie Shrier | MSU Extension

For families all across Michigan, this time of year brings a host of fun gatherings with friends and family. However, these exciting times can quickly become overwhelming for young children. From having to try new foods to having your schedule disrupted, or that strange Aunt coming in for big kiss, there are a lot of experiences that can be frightening and confusing for children. Michigan State University Extension offers the following tips to more successful holiday gatherings with your children.

Keep them well fed

This might seem obvious, but be sure your children are eating breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks during the holidays. Often times, with family meal times scheduled at unusual times, such as a mid-morning brunch, it might be tempting to skip your child’s regularly scheduled meals. This can be a recipe for disaster, with hungry children being forced to wait to eat and then being expected to behave well too!

Keep healthy snacks, such as fruits or vegetables, in your bag or car on your holiday travels. If you are expecting unusual foods to be served, consider feeding your child ahead of the meal, or being sure to bring a long a dish they will eat. Be mindful of how many sugary treats your child is consuming as well! See tips to help your child eat healthy over the holidays.

Mind their routines

Routines provide children with a safe, comfortable and predictable day. When we disrupt their routines, even for fun activities, it can prompt feelings of insecurity and unease in children. If you are changing the routine, be sure to tell your children ahead of time what is happening, where you are going and who will be there. Surprises often do not work well for young children as new and different experiences can be scary.

Consider creating a photo routine to show your children what is coming next in the day. You can take actual pictures of your daily routine. When changes occur, you can show them where they fit into the day. For example, saying, “After lunch but before bed we are going to Grandma’s house. We will be back for bedtime.”

Sleep is still important

With obligations to extended or blended families, church, work, community groups, school and more, the days can stretch very long during the holiday season. Children might end up waking up early, skipping a nap and then being up late too. Try preserving 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 kids are often cranky kids, and it’s not fun for anyone to be cranky! To learn more about children and sleep, see “Good night, sleep tight!

Watch your expectations

Think ahead about what behaviors are developmentally appropriate for your young children and plan accordingly. Do you know your toddler won’t make it quietly through the long dinner at Grandma’s? Maybe a teenage cousin can plan to go outside to play when she gets fussy. Is your grade schooler’s concert at 2 p.m. and that’s nap time for your preschooler? Consider finding a sitter so he doesn’t have to tag along when he’s usually sleeping. Planning ahead for children’s normal behaviors can help make those tough times more bearable because you are already prepared!

As they say, kids will be kids. Expect your young children to behave like young children. Consider explaining family members ahead of time if you anticipate certain behaviors that could be disruptive. If other adults are placing additional expectations on your child, be their advocate and explain your rules and expectations.

Be respectful of your children

The holidays can be a very overwhelming time for everyone! Imagine yourself in your child’s shoes. Do you remember what it was like to have to kiss Auntie Mildred? Or eat Great-Grandma’s fruit cake? Or sit still for a long family meal? Children have a right to say no when an adult wants to hug or kiss them and they feel uncomfortable; these are important limits to help children learn to set. Help them protect their space by reading their body language and protecting their space and needs. Plan ahead to be sure your children have familiar foods to eat and that their needs are being respected. Be your child’s best advocate, and stand up for their needs.

Take time to think ahead about your holiday plans and be mindful of your children’s needs as you’re doing so. Viewing the world through your child’s eyes can help you foresee those potential pitfalls and problems before they arise. The holidays can be a fun time of year for everyone, young and old, with a little advanced planning and forethought!

Visit Michigan State University Extension’s website for more tips this holiday season.

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