Holiday Parenting Tips

How to Stay Sane this Christmas


It’s a tough time of year.  I used to have this fantasy of Christmas with log fires, lots of rest, fun, laughter – and of course, impeccably behaved children.  The reality was always disappointing.

Instead of my aspirational fantasy there was lots of rushing around, buckets of stress, fractious children and tense parents.

At this time of year we tend to expect “best behaviour” from our children.  Instead we get tears and tantrums (click here for How to Stop Tantrums audio download), sulking and defiance (click here for How to Stop Power Struggles audio download).  And with friends and relatives around our parenting is on display and our desire to be seen as good parents with perfectly behaved children makes everything harder.

Even though it’s supposed to be a magical time for children when they’re indulged and given presents galore, it can actually be a tough time for kids.  Let’s put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what might be going on for them.

School ends and with it the routine of term-time.  Children may be getting up earlier or staying up later than usual.  They could be watching more television and getting less exercise.  They’re almost certainly eating more sugar and less “real” food.  If they drink fizzy drinks they can be filling up with caffeine.  Visitors and visiting can create a lot of extra excitement.  But it also means less attention from parents.  Presents and visits from Santa can bring more excitement.  But it could also mean disappointment and jealousy.  Add all this together and you have the perfect recipe for more challenging behaviour than usual.

Then mix in some high expectations and it’s no wonder that Christmas can feel like a let down.

Here’s a check list to help you avoid your worst Christmas nightmare and fill you and your family with festive cheer instead.

7 Top Parenting Tips for a Happy Christmas

1) Have a pre-Christmas family meeting. Talk about your expectations and concerns.  Let your children know that you understand Christmas is fun but has some difficult elements too.  Listen to your children’s expectations and concerns.  Maybe renegotiate some key rules for the holiday season. 

2) Stick to your regular routine as much as possible. If your kids are used to the outdoors three times a day in school, then make efforts to get them outside every day.  It doesn’t need to be fancy.  A walk in the park or a play in the garden can do wonders for everyone’s mood.  Don’t let bed-time slide too much.  Or if you do, expect the tiredness and grumpiness that goes with it!

3) Lower your expectations. It might seem odd, but if you expect your children to be badly behaved at least some of the time, then you’re more likely to be pleasantly surprised by how well they manage to behave much of the time!

4) If you relax the rules (e.g. about sugar or bed-time), then be relaxed about the consequences of rule-breaking as well. It might be clear to you that being allowed to stay up late does not automatically mean that you can now put your feet on the furniture.  You can still enforce important boundaries and limit unacceptable behaviour.  But do it in a spirit of goodwill.

5) Allow time for rest. It may be tempting to fill every available day with trips and visits.  But there’s a good reason why one day a week has historically been a day of rest:  WE NEED IT.  Give yourself and your children time to recharge your batteries.  Read a book, play some board-games, have a nap in the afternoon.  Avoid falling into the trap of needing a holiday to recover from your holiday!

6) Brush up on your parenting skills beforehand. Remind yourself of all the tricks in your toolbox.  Re-read or listen to your favourite parenting tips.  Prepare yourself to stay detached.  Remember that your children generally don’t deliberately manipulate you.  Praise yourself and them A LOT for what you’re doing well.  Give everybody – including yourself – a lot of empathy (click here for an article on how to use empathy to transform bad behaviour).  Feelings run high at Christmas.  Be ready to accept them.

7) Have FUN! We’re often so busy teaching and guiding and disciplining our children that we forget to just let go and have fun with them.  Children have playful spirits and they LOVE when their parents play with them – especially their mothers who tend to “do” physical play less often.  Rejuvenate your spirit by playing with your children this holiday.



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