With Thanksgiving coming up in a couple of days, it seems as good a time as any to talk about how to navigate the holidays with young children.

While many people look forward to all of the traveling, cooking and quality time spent with family during the holidays, this can also be a season when parents stress about how their children will handle everything that comes with these joyous events and gatherings.

Many go into this time of year with concerns about how their toddler will hold up during a Thanksgiving dinner that starts at 8 p.m. or worrying about how their 6-year-old will react when they open a gift and don’t find what they were hoping for.

As with most situations involving children, there are some things that will be totally out of your control. But there are others that with a little bit of planning and preparation, can turn into wonderful memories for your family.

Here are six tips for surviving the holidays with your children:

Set a Good Example

It’s not new information that kids pick up on everything. When it comes to how to feel about the holidays, they’ll be taking their cues from you. If they see you’re stressed out and overwhelmed, that’s something they will mimic and everyone’s tensions will be super-high.

If they see you’re relaxed and enjoying yourself as best as possible, they’ll pick up on that and their attitude and behaviors will follow.

Try to Stick with their Schedule as Much as Possible

Schools will be closed, meals will be at odd hours and schedules tend to go out of the window. The problem is that kids thrive on structure (remember my daylight savings post!), and you’ll notice they are more likely to act out when taken out of their regular routine.

Do your best to keep things as close to normal as possible. For example, if your child typically goes to bed at 7:30 p.m., don’t agree to go to a dinner at 8.

Be Flexible When Possible

With that being said, try to be flexible with the schedule when you can be. While it might throw off the kids too much to start dinner at 8, it is probably OK to push back their bedtime a little to let them enjoy time with family.

You know what your kids can handle, and trying to stick 100 percent to their schedule might put more stress on you than letting it bend a little.

Create Your Own Family Traditions

This is my favorite piece of advice for the holidays. As adults, it’s so easy to get caught up in the stress and chaos. We often forget the memories from when we were kids. Whether your hope is to give your children experiences similar to what you enjoyed or to start new traditions for them to build on, now is the time to create these memories as a family.

Focus on the Real Meaning of the Holiday, Not the ‘Hallmark’ Version

The holidays are a great time to teach your children about giving. Use this as an opportunity to talk with your kids about the deeper meaning of the holiday and what they can focus on this time of year.

Let them know there are some people who are less fortunate, and talk about what you can do to help. Even very young children can participate in purchasing gifts for toy drives or cooking a meal to bring to a local shelter.

Be Realistic with Your Expectations

You may have to realize it might not be possible for your 3-year-old to sit quietly for the entire meal or for your 6-year-old to have a lengthy conversation with your great aunt. Children bring a different level of excitement to holiday celebrations, and we need to do our best to allow them to be kids. Setting up developmentally appropriate expectations for your kids will reduce frustrations, for you and them.

I hope you find these ideas helpful, but would love to hear from you. What other tips do you have for getting through the holidays with young kids? Please let me know.

Talya Knable, psychotherapist and Jmore parenting columnist, stands in her Lutherville home. (Photo by Steve Ruark)
(Photo by Steve Ruark)

Jmore parenting columnist Talya Knable is a psychotherapist who lives in Lutherville with her husband, Stephen, and their two children, Jack and Leigh. Her website is tkpsych.com/ She is also the assistant clinical director of Shalom Tikvah (shalomtikvah.org/), a local non-profit organization that supports Jewish families facing mental illness and other challenging life circumstances.

More In News

All In News »