The Thanksgiving leftovers are gone … and now we rush headlong into the Christmas holidays! As parents, you strive to make the holidays a special time for your children. This is truly a wonderful time for families to be sure. But there can be a downside to the holiday excitement. All the preparations, hosting and traveling, and finances increase stress for parents. The hype and buildup for the perfect gifts, time around unfamiliar family members, and lack of structure leads kids to overstimulation, stress reactions, and may lead to some challenging child behaviors. In fact, overstimulation during the holidays may lead to some acting out. This week’s column is devoted to making this a less stressful and more successful holiday for everyone!

First, it is important to talk to your kids about how they feel about the holiday and ask them how they might want to celebrate. You might consider hosting a family meeting to respond to this question: “What should we do for the holidays this year?” You might want to continue traditions … or not. Communicate your family’s decision to your extended family. Spending time together with family is important; it helps us communicate better and makes kids feel safe and connected. The key is to truly connect: no phones, no TV, no distractions. Play board games, charade, go on scavenger hunts, and other fun activities that involve communication. Talk about good things that happened during the past year and a couple of things they would like to change for the next year. Encourage your children and their grandparents to have meaningful conversations about family and history. Sometimes kids may feel uncomfortable around some family members or friends they have not seen for a while. Let them know it is okay not to hug or kiss family and friends they hardly see because it will appear rude. Teach them how to shake hands instead!

In some families this year, there may have been a huge change due to the death of a loved one. It is important to acknowledge and honor that within your family. Ask your children how they want to honor that person and make sure they understand their feelings matter. Discuss with your children ways they can honor the missing person through donating, selecting a meaningful decoration for the tree or mantel, or other ways of keeping memories alive. You might set aside an empty chair at the table as a way of honoring a loved one.

The holidays are great times for families to spend time together having fun! It is okay for routines to be disrupted for cousin time – that is their family! Staying up late, eating rich and sugary foods is all part of the fun. So, as a parent, try to manage it. When family is not around, try to stick with more structure and a regular bedtime routine. Sleepy and tired kids are more prone to meltdowns! Get your kids outside and involved in physical activity and exercise. Go on walks, play tag and hide and seek; get them away from their screens. Try to watch your child’s diet and sneak in some protein and vegetables. Again, sugar overload can lead to some significant crashes and changes in your child’s mood.

It is tempting to shower kids with gifts and try to make the holiday “perfect” with all the right things. I encourage you to discuss this with your children before Christmas and consider making some changes this year (and in coming years). Studies show that activities and experiences connect the gift-giver to the receiver more than material gifts do. Think about giving gifts that relate to your child’s interests or talents. By the same token, involve your children in selecting fits for others by recognizing and celebrating their interests and talents. At the end of the column is a list of gifts that you might want to consider for your kids and family members this year instead of a toy … which will lose its gleam and appeal in short order!

I would also encourage you to move away from the self-focus of gifts and gift others with your presence and service. Find events and opportunities in your community where you and your children can volunteer. Serve meals, bake cookies and take them to a nursing home, go play with dogs at the shelter. You might consider sponsoring a child overseas and writing that child letters, sending pictures, etc. Find a way to get out of yourselves and into others this holiday season.

I wish you and your family the very best holiday this year. Look for opportunities to change things up and make this holiday truly memorable!

Activity/Experience Gifts

Season passes: Zoo, museum, aquarium, amusement park, water park

One-time passes: Movies, bowling, skating, concert, sporting event, mini golf, theater, arcade

Lessons: Swimming, sports, gymnastics, karate, musical instrument, pottery/art, craft, horseback riding

Family Experience Gifts: Camping, road trip, night away at local hotel with pool, hotel with indoor waterpark, trip to beach, train trip, rock climbing, zip lining, helicopter or hot air balloon ride.

Give each family member a gift associated with the event and see if they can figure out where they are going (camping gear, goggles, etc.)!

Learning Tools: Art and craft items (paint, canvases, etc.), scientific items (magnets, science kits, magnifying glasses, binoculars, etc.), gardening tools, a new educational app or game, etc.

Gifts That Aren’t Toys: Books, games, craft and science kits, magazine subscription, camera, journal, photo album, new bedding and room décor, sports items (balls, basketball, soccer goals), stationary, special Christmas tree ornament.


Gail Roaten has taught counseling students for 13 years, and was a counselor in schools for 12 years. She has provided parenting classes and trainings through various churches and the Department of Family and Protective Services. She has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Texas. She is the parent of three children and has six grandchildren.


The information Roaten is providing is based on research and research-based practices as well as from well-known theories. The parenting information and tips offered is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal or other professional assistance or therapy.

The information found in this column is not intended to treat or diagnose; nor is it meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional.

This column, its author and The Rockport Pilot are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any information provided that may be used in parenting. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions.

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