If you’re anything like me, you probably want your kids to have the same magical experiences you remember from your childhood.
If you have fond memories of cookie baking, caroling, pageants, Santa visits, Christmas tree farms, or other adventures, you want your kids to love the things you loved, to experience the same wonder and joy that you did.
It’s normal. And wonderful. But sometimes impossible.
Sometimes, our kids don’t experience the world the same way we do. There are allergies, sensory sensitivities, and other challenges that would make the events that we loved more stressful than thrilling, more anxiety-inducing than awe-inspiring.
We can give our kids… and ourselves… a gift. The gift of an appropriate and child-informed holiday season. I’m not saying that we let our littles become dictators who determine what we do (and don’t) do, but instead of chasing after recreating the past and keeping up with the neighbors down the street, we do what works for our family. At our pace. And don’t feel guilty about the rest.
We have a fake tree. I actually have a pine sap allergy, and we also have allergic family members. Instead of bemoaning the fact that we can’t go cut a tree and have that experience, we make the tree setup an event. We turn on music, the kids each have jobs, and it has become an annual tradition.
Know your kids.
So much of our frustration with our kids comes from a desire to make them be people they are not. We want easy-going kids to be more assertive. We want stubborn kids to be more flexible. We want energetic kids to be calmer and more reserved kids to take more initiative.
If there are areas that you know will particularly spark your kids’ interests and emphasize their strengths, prioritize those things.
Go to the train display, watch the cute movie, craft to your heart’s content.
See 20 Santas if that’s your thing. Participate in parties, parades, pageants, dances, and secret Santa… if that’s what works for your family.
Our family does well in smaller group settings, in quieter and less chaotic settings, so we prioritize those type of events.
Our family also does well with shorter time commitments, so we rarely schedule something that will be longer than 2 hours. They also need lots of down time and free play, so we build that in to our schedules.
This isn’t pampering or coddling our kids. We give them plenty of opportunities to stretch themselves and to be out of their comfort zones, but the holidays are already stressful enough – routine is disrupted, lots of additional stressors and excitement… even good things add to the stress level.
Stretch it Out
There’s nothing that says everything needs to happen during the days surrounding the holiday. Instead of cramming everything into a few frantic days, spread it out.
Go to a light show a couple weeks beforehand.
Break out the crafts and try a new activity – maybe go shopping for friends or relatives together.
Pace yourselves. Kids enjoy small surprises and can appreciate them more fully when they’re not being rushed to the next thing.
Schedule “pajama days”. Days where you don’t have anywhere to go or anything to do other than to be together. Prioritize that togetherness and your relationships instead of rushing to the next thing.
Emphasize connection over perfection
Sometimes, the most magical moments are those spontaneous dance parties next to the tree.
The tree may not be “perfect”, but the kids decorated it, so it’s theirs. The house may not be perfect, but it’s homey and warm, and family is there. And we have time for one another, because we’re not rushing frantically from one event to the next.
This year, give yourself and your kids a break from the craziness of the season, and enjoy a few magical things together.