Surviving the Holidays with Young Children

With Thanksgiving coming up in 1 short week, it is official: the holidays are upon us.  And with that, mothers everywhere are looking forward to peaceful, relaxing, days filled with nothing but pleasantries, delicious food, and good holiday cheer.



More like wrestling overtired and highly sugared children out of their stained t-shirts and into something moderately presentable before schlepping them off to a relative’s house where you will spend the meal refilling milk cups, cutting up food that goes uneaten, and praying they don’t break Great-Aunt Sally’s lovely china.  Or is that just me?

While the holidays are certainly a time of family togetherness and an opportunity to create lasting memories, when you add young children to the equation, you often add a lot of stress as well.  This will be my 4th holiday season as a mom with little ones and having experienced the broken dishware at Thanksgiving, off-schedule meltdown for Hanukkah, itchy sweater tantrum during Christmas Eve service, and over-stimulation craze of Christmas day, I feel like I am finally starting to hit my stride.  Maybe.  Via wine, prayer, and a few of these helpful hints…

1.  Keep it Simple

I know we strive to create beautiful holiday memories for our children, but do you really have to follow through on every single Thanksgiving craft you’ve pinned? Probably not.  Simplicity allows for the space in which we can breathe, relax, and truly enjoy.  Try to find a way to simplify your holiday season this year – whether it be cutting back on the number of houses you stop at, the menu and over-the-top decorations, or the number of gifts exchanged.  I assure you, your children will not miss out on anything if they have a mom who is unstressed and able to be there with them in the moment.

2. Plan

Planning with young children helps everything go a little smoother and holidays are no exception.  If you will be enjoying your holiday at someone else’s house, be sure to have a stocked diaper bag at the ready filled with a change of clothes, lovies, snacks, toys, coloring and other items that will help calm and entertain the kiddos.  Keep the kids’ naps and bedtime in mind and talk with family about how you can work around those.  Also, plan *with* the children.  Talk to them about how you will be spending the holiday, who will be there, and what your expectations for their behavior will be (“No, you don’t have to eat everything Grandma puts on your plate, but it is never okay to complain about food someone worked hard to make.  Just leave it off to the side.“)

3. Be Flexible

You know your children best and the areas in which they are most able to be flexible, but maybe skipping nap for one day or staying up a little past their bedtime is okay (though I don’t recommend both!).  One day of poor nutrition isn’t going to kill them and even though you may not typically allow them to watch TV, if a little football with their uncle will keep them out of trouble for 20 minutes, perhaps you’ll consider looking the other way.  When you take the day in stride, your children will take an important cue from you.  However, just like my Weight Watchers leader always said, the holiday is just one day.  Once that day is over, it’ s right back on track!

4. Take Care of Yourself

Because how we are feeling dictates so much of how our children are feeling, it’s important that we do what we can to lower our stress and keep our sanity during this crazy time.  Allow yourself 20 minutes to take a walk or read a book, breathe deeply, and interrupt the running to-do list in your head once in a while for thoughts of peace, thankfulness, and what the holiday really means to you.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask for some help.  A babysitter for a couple of hours to clean your house in peace or asking your cousin to keep an eye on the baby for a bit so you can really savor a piece of Nana’s famous apple pie can go a long way.  Don’t forget, this is your holiday too!


And if all else fails? Remind yourself that this will only be for a few years.  They won’t be little for long!  (Oh, how that thought brings tears to my eyes…I’m just not sure if they are tears of sadness, or relief!)

How do you survive the holidays with your little ones?  Any tips or tricks to pass along?

8 thoughts on “Surviving the Holidays with Young Children

  1. Thanks Elise for the great advice. We have an every other year family tradition where we only travel a long distance every other year to celebrate holidays. We host on the opposite year. To be honest preparing, packing, traveling and celebrating with children is far more work than hosting. If each guest brings part of the meal all you have to do is set the stage! Usually guests are willing to help clean up too! The kids are in their usual space with everything they need including kid friendly dinner wear, toys, and best of all their room (if you are lucky enough to have kids who will sleep while parents continue festivities.) Even if your home is tiny, people are happy to eat in shifts or in several rooms. A staircase is the perfect place for older children to sit and eat as long as they are not carpeted. I will always remember our Canadian Christmases as a child. Over 60 relatives packed into all four rooms of a tiny farm house and we all still managed to eat, sing, and dance. So stop packing up, schlepping and traveling from family to family and consider inviting everyone to your home, no mater the size! Happy Holidays!!!!!


  2. It may be selfish of us, but one thing that we have done is try to cut down on the running around. Instead of going to Thanksgiving in Boston, driving to VT, spending one night with my husband’s family, then having another celebration with my family, spending another night somewhere else, on and on and on – we just do the day trip to Boston and visit with other relatives at other times. For Hanukkah this year, the usual host has asked that my mother in law host – I am quite sure that is because of the chaos that my kids reap wherever they go. I am grateful, though, because it saves me from having to repeatedly scold them and worry over what they will break next. My in-laws house is much more child friendly. For the first time last year, we hosted Christmas at our house. It meant that there was a lot of family that we did not get to see, but we had a such a great time and having the kids wake up on Christmas morning at home was really important to us. Then, post-Christmas, we were able to take much more leisurely trips to see relatives without the pressure of the holiday weighing on us.

    This is not the ideal solution for every family, but I enjoy the holidays so much more now that they don’t involve packing up the car for several days of travel.


  3. These are helpful hints. This will be my second Holiday season with two kids. I did have to muck up all the great planning last year and had my second son in December. Oh how I strongly dislike the balance in my checkbook in January when the month is done. Not only do we have the multi-cultural Hannakah and Christmas but the baby will be one Dec. 11, and the big boy will be 5 Dec. 30th. Mommy turns 40 on Dec. 2!! Any help would be greatly appreciated and thank goodness for school pictures!!!! So lucky to have a BIG family and can pass the baby around. My grandma was so happy that we had our two week old in NH for Christmas last year!! I wouldn’t trade that for the world.


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