Dear Parents: Here’s How to Survive & Thrive at the Holidays

Advice for Parents During the Holidays

The year is winding down, everything is either pumpkin-scented or cinnamon-spiced, and we’re already knee-deep on what I call the “Falliday holidays.”

I’ve got two words to say about that upfront:  Hold me.

If there is any time of year capable of leaving parents reeling and gasping for air, it’s the holidays. Between work, school (or homeschool, if like me, that’s your thing), kiddie activities, tree-trimming, shopping, cooking, eating, and generally just working one’s self to the bone, it’s the stretch from Halloween to New Year’s Eve.

Before things get crazy crazier, I’d like to offer some simple suggestions to keep your wits about you and maybe carve out a little “peace and joy” in all the “falalalala-ing.”

Empathic disclosure: Are you wondering if I follow every bit of advice that I’m about to offer? Let me say I’m working on that part, but I’ve seen these strategies work for others so I feel comfortable sharing them here–if for no other reason to remind myself to practice them.

Prioritize. Yes,  dear Mom or Dad, you want to do it all, from selecting the perfect, organic, free-range hen to trimming the tree and/or Hanukkah bush. But do you really need to do everything? Do you really need to buy everything? Make a list of what is essential to you this holiday season and try to minimize the excess. Your soul and your pocketbook will thank you come January.

• Manage your children’s expectations. Sure, commercials, movies and casual chats on the sidewalk with friends build expectations, but kids mostly pick up on what the holidays “should” be by what we say and do. Use the lull between Halloween and Thanksgiving–before the Christmas music gets too constant–to talk about what your family will do to observe the holidays. You can start early by talking with preschoolers about what traditions are essential in your household (again, know your priorities first). It’s never too late with older kids to have a heart-to-heart about how what we want isn’t the same as what we need. (That’s a pretty good discussion 365/24/7, actually.)

• Manage others’ expectations about your children.  Parents can do a lot of things but they cannot simply wave a magic wand and make their kids “fit” the definition of a “perfect child.” If a clash over parenting or a child’s behavior is a routine issue within your extended family–and you and your kids bear the brunt of the criticism, then now (as in early November) is the time to have a heart-to-heart with key players in your family about what can be reasonably expected of you and your kids. (Also, you might have them read this, especially if your kiddo has ADHD, SPD or is on the autism spectrum.)

Let’s puzzle through some social matters, shall we?   For example what about  the annual rollicking, loud family Christmas party at Aunt Tina’s house that drives your child nuts from the excess sensory input. What options are available to you to minimize the impact of the experience upon your kid? Can you drop by just for an hour or two, maybe when it’s still daylight and all the kids can run around outside? Can you catch up with Aunt Tina later on your own?  Likewise, if your family is subdued and your kids are high energy, it might be wise to come up with a way to expend the energy. (A possible solution: pool funds and rent a bounce house. Or arrange a pre-party trip to the park.)

Mind you, in my work with homeschool parents, I’ve discovered that excess sensory input at the holidays is an issue for kids of all personalities, temperaments, and levels of sensitivity. Granted, it’s absolutely harder for those of us raising sensory-sensitive kiddos, including those in the “ADHD, SPD, ASD” groupings. However, between the holiday lights, hype, hopes and promises, there’s a lot of excitement going on for kids to absorb.

What they can’t absorb, they tend to shove off on parents in some fashion. You’re better off thinking through and prepping for various scenarios.

• Outsource. Get help in ways that fit your lifestyle and pocketbook. If you can afford to cater a meal or two, hire a housekeeper, or invest in a babysitter for a couple of nights so you can shop (or eat and chat with your beloved) uninterrupted, do it guilt-free. Enlist the kids in seasonal to-do list projects, too. Yes, Pinterest has all sorts of perfect package ideas, but the truth is that “brown paper packages tied up with string” and decorated with a handmade card from your kid is terrific. And probably more memorable.

• Innovate. Is it time to put away old traditions and foster new ones? Would your teens benefit more from volunteering at a soup kitchen than unwrapping a dozen gifts? Would your grade-schooler be happier vegging out with you at the movies rather than running a gauntlet of well-meaning but emotionally draining family “holiday” activities? What do the holidays mean to you and what do you want them to mean to your kids now–and down the road? Thoughtful answers to these questions may bring you insights into manageable changes you can make.

• Take care. Whatever it is that helps center you–prayer, meditation, yoga, jogging, staring at the Christmas lights with a glass of wine, or watching the BBC Sherlock series on a repeat loop as you escape to your “mind palace” (guilty!), make sure that you allocate time for it on your schedule each week during the holiday season.


Because there is no light to be found in a spent candle, folks. Make peace with making time for yourself and your holidays will be a little brighter, a little lighter.


Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop November 2013This post is a contribution to the November 2013 Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (“GHF”) Blog Hop. GHF is non-profit, 501 (c) 3 organization for which I serve on the board of directors in a voluntary capacity. My first book, How to Work and Homeschool: Practical Advice, Tips, & Strategies from Parents, was published by GHF Press in mid-2013. For more information about the organization–including how to make a donation, visit



  1. Thank you, Pamela. I love your message of focussing on your priorities and preparatory planning to help reduce stress and make the holidays joyful!

  2. Remembering to manage my children’s expectations is something I struggled with last year. It nearly broke my heart when my 7 year old said that when she had kids she would always buy them everything they wanted for Christmas 😦 Talking about it after the fact she was able to look back and realize how lucky she was, but I would far sooner have them enjoy the entire holiday feeling grateful – thank you for the reminder!

    • It can be so difficult to watch our kids as they struggle with a shift in expectations. Good on you for sticking it out, Jennifer, and circling back to reconnect to the central lesson.

  3. Managing others’ expectations of my child is my biggest challenge. It seems like family is frequently still on “last year’s plan” while my boy has moved on to other (hopefully more skilled) quirky behaviors.

    Thanks for the reminders about self-care — never too many of those!

    • Aw, thanks, Mika. It can be challenging to be in that constant role of “advocate.” Especially at the holidays when everyone else appears to be having fun.

  4. Thank you for the reminders, and the permission 🙂 , to control my family’s holiday expectations! Oftentimes my own expectations are the most difficult to control – “did I do enough to make everyone’s holiday special?” Great information!

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