Holiday Stress Got You Down? The 5 Golden Rules of Holiday Sanity

Posted December 4, 2008 by

As parents, it’s easy to focus on the kids and lose sight of ourselves and our needs as adults at this time of year. So, when we look at how to manage family and behavior problems during the holidays, we need to look at the effect the season has on us and on our kids. We are often overwhelmed by the amount of work we need to get done on the job and the amount of pressure we feel due to social obligations at this time of year. Add in the stress of gift buying (especially in divorced and blended families) and we feel a tremendous emotional fatigue—which means we have fewer emotional resources with which to manage our kids. The whole thing can become a cycle of stress.

Try following these simple rules and keep the stress levels in your house to a minimum.

Rule #1: Work out a schedule and stick to it: Give more thought to preparations, even for simple things like shopping. Work out a schedule with your spouse ahead of time: if one of you is shopping, the other is watching the kids. While the idea of taking the kids along to shop for dad may sound fun, it may not be. If you want to take you daughter along with you to shop for her brother, think twice. Depending on the age and temperament of your child, it may not be a good idea. Decrease the stress on yourself and keep the kids at home. Dinner and getting homework started are stressful times of the day, so try to stick to your usual routine as you lead up to the holidays.

Rule #2: Keep Your Kids Busy (and out of Trouble)
It’s a simple fact: when kids are on vacation, they have less structure in their day. They’re going to get into more trouble because they have time on their hands. A way to keep one step ahead of them is to plan ways to manage that time. Here are some ideas: schedule outings for the week with your kids. Arrange playdates with their friends. Plan tournaments. If you have a couple of kids in your house, plan a holiday Wii or Monopoly tournament that lasts a couple of days or even a week. Let your kids be involved in creating the number of games, the schedule and the prizes. This is a good idea any time with your kids, but it will work especially well during the holiday break.

Rule #3 Keep it Private
It’s very important for parents to communicate with each other and share frustrations at this time when your home becomes very public. Make an extra effort to talk together about problems at work or with the kids and resolve them privately, issue by issue, out of range of curious children and well meaning relatives who don’t know what’s happening in your home day-to-day.

#4: No complaining about the in-laws from December 15th to January 3rd.
I always suggest this to parents. Make a pact with your spouse that neither of you will complain about your in-laws from December 15th to January 3rd. Keep a journal instead and write in it. If you can’t stand your mother-in-law, don’t complain to your spouse about it, especially in front of the kids. Write in the journal, and keep it to yourself. It’s not a good time to share these thoughts with your spouse.

Rule #5: Stick to a Budget
In the wake of the news about the recession, this year, more than ever, people I know are talking about curbing spending and keeping their finances in check. This is a good idea for everyone. Even though you might be tempted, don’t over-spend. Don’t get into playing the “deep pockets” game. You’ll end up with a husband or wife who resents you and kids who feel a false sense of entitlement. If you are in a two-parent household, determine how much you’re going to spend together on the kids and stick to it. And then LET GO.

A successful holiday depends in large part on your commitment to planning for your kids. Planning how to use their free time constructively so they stay out of trouble and do positive things with the family. Planning how much money you’ll spend. Planning so that you have the emotional resources to give them. Planning what you’ll do with any hard feelings that develop between you and your spouse or you and your ex. We all need limits—both kids and adults. Set some limits with yourself this holiday and stick to them. The end result will be a holiday everyone enjoys.


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  1. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor (Edit) Report

    Hi ‘joy’: It is easy to feel rejected when your teen prefers to spend time with her friends, rather than spend time with you when she is home. It is pretty normal for a teen girl to want to spend time with her friends when she is home; however, you can also talk about spending some family time as well. We recommend setting up a structure for the holidays which includes mother-daughter family time, and also time when she can be with her friends. During the time when she is with her friends, it is vital to focus on what you can control, which is yourself. It is important to have some time where you can take care of yourself. For example, if you are feeling rejected, you can choose instead to something you find enjoyable, such as exercise, craft projects or baking. I am attaching an article by another author on this site that I think you might find helpful: Holiday Stress: How to Keep Calm and Avoid Fighting with Your Kids. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

  2. Dayna (Edit) Report

    I respectfully disagree with Chris on whether kids should witness their parents arguing. If the parents know how to argue without being hurtful to each other, their children will ultimately benefit from learning that married couples do argue sometimes. However, it is very important for them to also witness their parents resolving the argument peacefully and apologizing to each other if necessary. These are important lessons our kids can learn from us, and apply to their own marriages someday.

  3. joy (Edit) Report

    We live next to the sea, which means we do not go away over Christmas because family friends etc all comes to the sea during holiday and we are glad to share with them, most have there own houses. BUT my daughter is now a month away from 15years and she and her friends has decided to hang out this holiday. I wanted to sort our the house with my daughters and do all the mother daughter things, we never get time for during the year (shes a international sports player too). Now shes out during the day with friends, come home shower and out again until 22h00 her cut of time. It feels like i dont like her anymore… Please help, i have a problem with rejection.

  4. Jacqui (Edit) Report

    Thank you Kathy, Christina and Chris. I think for me the most difficult thing is getting over the extended family reaction. Our son has such deep seated behavior problems, the family does not understand our need for structure and routine. It is as necessary as water. Life is unmanageable without. I always enjoy the articles, but really like the feedback; it has given me the validation I need that we are doing the right thing for our son and our family. Thank you.

  5. Chris Thompson (Edit) Report

    James – these are very good common sense tips. Well said. Especially the part about keeping it private. Kids don’t need to see their parents arguing with each other. I have noticed that kids are much better adjusted when the parents present a loving and united front to the family.

  6. Kathy (Edit) Report

    Like Cristina, I will especially handle the holidays with less stress and guilt-free by keeping the kids on their routine schedule.

    I have a 3 and 5 yr old, by myself, so it is equally important that they have necessary nap time, etc. I’m going to try the opening of presents a couple at a time, because it is overwhelming to the children and they don’t even see what they have to enjoy! Thanks for sharing, Cristina.

  7. Christina (Edit) Report

    We set our foot down when it comes to holidays at our house. We keep a strict schedule for our family that includes the daily nap for the younger one and the least stimulation possible for our older one with behavior problems.

    I have stopped feeling guilty about saying we can only come to a get together for an hour or that we need to leave in an instant if my older child starts acting up.

    Our kids don’t need to open all their presents at once. It’s way too much for my older one with ADHD to open more than one or two presents at a time. I thank everyone who has given him something and let them know that he will get to it in the next few days (or weeks). Last year it took us a month to open everything. If someone gets offended that they don’t get to see him open the present they gave him, well that’s their hang-up and not mine.

    I try to keep the holidays as simple as possible for our family, and when I’m able to do that, we all have a good time.



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