Holiday Stress: Should You Cancel Christmas?

Posted November 30, 2015 by

Holiday Stress: Should You Cancel Christmas?

It’s here: the most wonderful time of year.

Trees are trimmed, music fills the air and hearts swell with gratitude. While many are out shopping, wrapping gifts and enjoying the holiday whirlwind, you feel conflicted.

Your child’s behavior goes beyond the “naughty list” and normal consequences aren’t working. You want your child to know you mean business. Should you cancel Christmas?

Parents who face this concern are often at their wit’s end, frustrated by a lack of effective consequences. No matter how many privileges you take away, your child continues to misbehave. In those moments, canceling special events like prom, birthdays, Christmas or Hanukkah can feel like your only leverage.

In the long run, however, canceling special events isn’t effective – kids become angry and resentful and in many cases, the behavior gets worse. Canceling the event also removes the opportunity for your child to make better choices.

Weigh the costs of canceling a special event. Ask yourself, “What’s my goal here? Is it worth giving up the chance to celebrate as a family in order to teach my child a lesson?

Most special events only happen once – once it’s over, you won’t have anything left to use as motivation. Your child won’t learn anything from the consequence, and you won’t get that time back.

Give yourself permission to address behavior separate from the holiday. You can still celebrate together as a family. You can still give consequences as you need to. Effective consequences should be task-oriented and tied to the original behavior – not to a holiday or special event.

If you need examples of effective consequences, we can help! One of my favorite articles to share with parents is, “Why Don’t Consequences Work for My Teen?” Here’s Why…and How to Fix It..

Wishing you a warm start to the holiday season,

Darlene B., Empowering Parents Coach
Learn more about 1-on-1 Coaching

“To be effective, a consequence needs to be short-term, task specific, and involve a privilege your child values.” – Megan Devine, LCPC


Darlene Beaulieu is a parent to two teenage daughters, ages 13 and 16. She has been an Empowering Parents Coach since 2009 and has helped thousands of families in that time. She earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling and has worked in school and community settings helping children and families with academic, social, and behavioral issues.

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  1. jeduffy4 Report

    I would cancel Christmas right now if it weren’t for one thing – my ghost child.  my neurotypical  child lovingly  puts up with SO MUCH he doesn’t deserve to have Christmas taken away.  how do you handle that?!!!

    • rwolfenden Report

      jeduffy4 We hear from many families who describe feeling guilty or sad about the way one child’s behavior impacts siblings, so you are not alone.  As Darlene describes in the blog above, we do not recommend cancelling Christmas or other special celebrations, because it doesn’t tend to be effective in addressing inappropriate behavior and sometimes it can even make it worse.  Instead, it’s more effective overall to use to hold a child accountable.  You might also consider scheduling one-on-one time with your neurotypical child so you can maintain your connection and relationship with him throughout the year.  Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family.  Take care.

  2. WD8 Report

    I followed your advice and…  it worked!  I made a rule and consequence list, to avoid my daughter saying “I didn’t know”, and me going way over board with the punishment. I recommend this approach for everybody!

  3. Helpless mama Report

    How do I get our 15 year old son to not talk back? He screams and hollers and we point out that’s talking back.. we get “I don’t understand. .I don’t understand ” ” how is that talking back”…. we try to explain during heat of the moment. .tried talking when everyone has calmed down…. My husband is at his wits end. We both don’t know what to do. We have taken away his electronics , sent him to his room…. we are at a loss anymore!

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      @Helpless mama
      I hear you. Trying to address backtalk from a teen can
      be extremely frustrating. It’s understandable you would be at a loss when
      nothing you’ve done has seemed to have any impact on the behavior. One approach
      we find to be productive is disconnecting from the backtalk when it’s
      occurring. As James Lehman explains in the article, the best response to
      backtalk is setting the limit and then walking away. What this might look like
      in your situation is saying to your son something like “I’ve already given you
      my answer. We’re not talking about this again” or “Arguing with me isn’t going
      to change my mind” and then leaving the room. Depending upon what the situation
      is, you might go back after things have calmed down and problem solve with your
      son what he could do differently next time. A consequence might even be called
      for depending upon what the precipitating event was. Keep in mind, though, that
      it’s normal for kids to push limits and backtalk is part of that. If your son
      is complying with requests and following house rules, the best response to
      backtalk might be no
      response at all. We do have another article on backtalk that you may find
      useful as well: I hope this is helpful. Be sure to check back if you
      have any further questions. Take care

  4. Mom2manygirls Report

    I seem to have the same issues with my 7 yr old daughter as Jen. Need help fast before I go totally insane! !

  5. LynnGB Report

    I experienced a lot of this when my girls were growing up.  The one thing I learned over the years is that it’s not about finding a consequence for each infraction (but, yes, you DO need to do this).  The REAL issue lies somewhere else.  Look back and see if you can find a time where they were compliant – then what was the event where they became uncompliant?  What did that event tell them?  When working with parents, I find that many parents have been so inconsistent in their parenting that the child is looking for what is real.  What are truly their boundaries?  Kids have a deep need to feel safe, so they will keep testing their boundaries until they find them.  If they push the limit one time and you let it go, but the next time give them a consequence, this will show up in their behavior.  They need to KNOW where their boundaries are.  The boundaries need to be very concrete and CONSISTENT.  The rules need to be clear – not just “understood”.  If your kids are young now, now is the time to catch this.  I work with troubled teens and parents – I promise you it doesn’t get better without some hard work on your part.

  6. BrokenMotherof3Sons Report

    This year I have cancled the holidays…… well for the most part….my oldest son has done and said way too much for me to think about celebrating……my middle son now lives with his father duebto this and my younger son may not get to visit me this year also due to the older sons actions. Tell me why I should celebrate when I don’t have all my family members together because of one child???

  7. Jen Report

    My daughter doesn’t seem to be affected by consequences. She pushes to the limit. If I say Im gonna take something away, she waits til in taking it. She csntbe shamed or reasoned with she’s 7 and I feel hopeless. There’s s lot more behavior issues. I can’t even list them all

  8. ELIZABETH Report

    My 9 year old daughter was doing well at school last year but this year she’not and she doing wrong things,stealing and lying.what seems to be a problem?

    • dbeaulieu Report


      While I do not have an answer as
      to what the problem is, I can tell you your daughter can learn new ways to
      solve her problems. If you have not already done so, have a conversation with
      her teacher about possible social or academic issues at school. If you are able
      to pinpoint what is going on for her you can help her to start handling
      troubling situations more effectively. With lying and stealing behaviors, it is
      best to be direct and upfront with her. If you know with certainty that your
      daughter is lying or stole something, tell her it is not OK and have her return
      the item or make amends. Then, discuss with her how she could handle the
      situation more appropriately next time. Sara Bean explains this more in her
      I hope this helps to answer your question. We appreciate you writing in.

    • Mothers Report

      Her friends talk to the teacher do pop ups she the kind of children she’s hanging with I’m a mother of seven i have been there with my oldest she’s now 18 sometimes they have to go through some embracing moments . To grow to let them see those aren’t the kind of people they need to be around or sometimes they act out for some attention.

  9. Amy Report

    My sister-in-law cancelled Christmas effectively one year by approaching it uniquely. Santa left a note Christmas morning reprimanding their behavior but promising to check back in one week on New Years to see how they did. They had a specific list to work on and 1 week to improve their behavior. They worked hard all week and on New Years Day Santa came. Its 10 years later and they are the most responsible people I know.



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