Tips for keeping the “happy” in your family’s holidays

Written By: Shelly Willis, Executive Director, who draws from her experience teaching parenting classes for more than two decades.

Many Parents and Caregivers greet the holiday season each year with a combination of joy, love and varying degrees of stress. Navigating the pandemic for the past two years has had an impact on families. Many cherished the extra time home with family members. However, some found working or schooling from home to be quite challenging. As we move into the 2021 holiday season and begin to share the joy, excitement and energy that goes with it, here are a few tips to lower your stress, and keep you in the moment.

  1. Maintain Routines: Do your best to maintain routines, structure and consistency. The more we are able to maintain consistent expectations, environments and our own well-being, the more predictable and calm our world will become. The holidays often bring a frantic pace. Often, there’s a demand to be at two places at one time, or to make a quick run to the store for a forgotten gift or a food item. Take the sail out of the wind and plan for staying home. Listening to holiday music, aiming for consistent dinner times and having a bedtime ritual will everyone will count on for a little end-of-the-day peace.
  2. Take it down a notch. Grant yourself permission to plan for a smaller holiday. Do your best to limit the travel up and down I-5 visiting relatives. Plan to stay home and cook together, make cookies or paperchains or string popcorn. As a family, make your own cards to mail, or call friends and family for a visit, or even a zoom get-together. Play a family game, begin a puzzle or read a holiday book together. Parents and Caregivers will see their child’s eyes light up during that 15–30-minute set-aside, and you have just created a memory, perhaps even a new tradition. Grant yourself peace and the comfort of your own home.
  3. Increase communication before, during and after events and gatherings. It may sound like you are part of an elite military squadron when I say “brief and de-brief your family,” but really, this is just a way of communicating the agenda and expectations. This is not rules and regulations, but rather the idea of having a few minutes before “an event” to go over what the timeline is, what is anticipated will happen, who will be there and the expectations. This helps clarify and perhaps avoid confusion. Something that we have used in the past is having a “code word” with our children. If they get overwhelmed, feel uncomfortable, upset or need your immediate attention, offer them a code word they can use. Ours was “Daisy.” This way, children can express emergent needs; you can respond without a big scene or embarrassment.

One parent told me her secret to navigating the holidays is to “Keep my hope high, and expectations low.” I am not sure that fits everyone’s needs, but I do like the idea of recognizing that this can be a stressful time of the year for many, especially those who may have lost someone due to illness. Some people around you may have short fuses, and it is understandable that the anticipation of the holiday can excite all of us to one level or another, especially children.

Sandy Hurd, a child therapist in Olympia, offered her own advice.

“Kids sit at home and get bored and get unmotivated,” she said. Parents should try to get themselves involved with them as much as possible. “Family is the most important thing we do,” she said.

Get out an iPad and work on making videos or movies,” she said, adding “any activities together as a family are really important.”

Limit screen time and, if possible, get counseling for children and families. Counselors have been overwhelmed with cases during the pandemic, but you should try because it can help.

“Hopefully, things will get better,” she said.

Added Shelly: “I hope you and your family enjoy this holiday season. My wish is that it is filled with hope and a renewed sense of peace and calm. Wishing you all the best, and a healthy new year.”

Parental Compass Podcasts Can Also Help

The most recent podcasts on the Parental Compass, a collaboration between FESS and Bobby Williams’ Bridge Music Project, provide more helpful information about raising kids during this time.

  • Building on your parental strengths.
  • Focusing on solutions (to help children get through tough times).
  • Raising your child to give back to the community.
  • Self-care.