7 Ways You Can Keep Your Family Joyful This Holiday Season
Written by Amy Jamieson on December 14, 2019
Experts say “fostering togetherness” is one of the way to keep joy in a family’s holiday season. Getty Images
Bah humbug — this is often the knee-jerk reaction to the holiday hubbub.
There are a million gifts to buy, parties to attend, and an overwhelming anxiety about holiday travel.
So, it’s understandable that many people may get fed up with the festivities.
In an effort to keep the holiday blues at bay, here are some suggestions — from experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and others — for helping keep the joy in everything your family does this season.
Whether you’re 3 years old or 30-something, we’re all creatures of habit, so try to stick to your regular schedule even when the holidays are in full swing.
“There is so much anticipation, preparation leading up to the holidays as well as traveling, spending time with family, doing special holiday traditions and activities, that families end up throwing all routine and schedules out the window — and then expect their children to be well behaved and excited about those special moments,” Ari Brown, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician in Texas and a spokesperson for the AAP, told Healthline.
“Holidays can be overwhelming and overstimulating, especially for young children, which leads to tantrums and tears. Respect your child’s need to rest and recharge,” she said.
That also means eating meals when you usually would.
“It’s easy to skip meals or to go longer between meals due to busy schedules,” added Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, the founder and director of Real Nutrition NYC. “Although this might be OK for grownups, children thrive on routine, and their bodies thrive on being fueled.”
Shapiro recommends keeping old favorites in your arsenal.
“During the holidays we tend to enjoy meals that are out of the ordinary,” she told Healthline. “I always recommend having one ‘safe’ food available that you can pair with a new food for your child to try.”
Experts say it’s difficult to feel bad when you’re doing something good.
So, find people who are in need this holiday, and lend them a hand.
“While you don’t need research to tell you that giving to others feels good, there is research out there that supports this,” Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD, a psychologist and author of “Bouncing Back from Rejection,” told Healthline.
“Empirical findings have shown that people feel appreciated and gain a sense of accomplishment when they see others benefit from their efforts,” she explained.
Imagine the intensity of that feeling when all the members of your family participate in something good, such as helping people experiencing homelessness or donating supplies to people who need them.
“There is evidence that being habitually altruistic raises dopamine levels in the brain,” Becker-Phelps said. “This leaves people feeling calmer, having greater self-worth, experiencing less emotional stress, and generally being happier.”
Avoid the “I can’t believe you bought me this” stare by choosing toys that suit the age, abilities, skills, and interest level of your child, the AAP suggests.
“Pay attention to the age on the box, and make sure the child you are buying the toy for is either the same age as the age listed on the box or 2 years older,” Jackie Cucco, senior editor of The Toy Insider, told Healthline.
“Buying toys that are too advanced or not challenging enough can be really disappointing for kids,” she said. “Shop with kids’ interests in mind so that you know what they like and can give them a gift that’s relevant to them.”
Having trouble selecting the right device for their age?
Cucco recommends starting young ones off with kid-friendly smart devices that offer passcode-protected web browser features, so you’re in the driver’s seat even when it’s in their hands.
You may be familiar with the side eye when a cellphone is used at the dinner table.
In light of that, it’s just good practice to set rules around devices or electronics.
The holidays are a great time for everyone to unplug. And if new devices are sitting under the tree, start them off on a good path.
“Parents can choose to limit time spent overall or time spent in individual apps or activities,” Andrew Moore-Crispin, director of content at mobile carrier Ting, told Healthline.
“Parents can also exert some control over the types of content children can access by, for example, not allowing PG movies to be played without a passcode, denying access to games of a certain ESRB [Entertainment Software Rating Board] rating, blocking access to certain apps or app categories,” he explained.
Lead by example, Moore-Crispin adds. Teach children there are appropriate and inappropriate times to use devices.
“They’re useful, but kids need to understand why we implement rules and limits around smartphone or other device use,” he said. “Just explaining that it’s about encouraging smart and responsible use as opposed to for the sake of being punitive or exerting control.”
’Tis the season to pass on family traditions, such as eggnog and carols by the fire or the annual family snowball fight.
How about taking things back a good 30 years and introducing them to a good old-fashioned board game?
“Family game night is a great way to socialize together, too. Just check the age on the box and pick a game suited to your kids’ interests,” Cucco said. “There are plenty of games themed to TV shows or movies that will hold older kids’ attention, too.”
Do things that make memories happen, such as cooking together or crafts.
“Holidays are a great chance to reconnect with family and spend quality time together,” Brown said, who’s also the co-author of the books “Baby 411” and “Toddler 411.” “Make sure to prioritize and cherish these moments.”
There are steps you can take to avoid common holiday hazards, according to the National Fire Protection Association, which offers safety information on their website.
Choose decor that’s flame resistant or retardant, keep candles away from decor, and read manufacturer’s instructions for the use of lights. Some are meant to be placed outdoors, some are not.
Think about the safety of your family when you’re away from home, too.
“Remember that friends and family’s homes may not be childproofed, so you will need to be more mindful of where your kids roam and play and monitor them more closely than you might in your own home,” Brown said. “Or ask your host to find a kid-safe place in their home to hang out.”
If you’re running around like a chicken with its head, well, you know, it’s entirely possible your kids will take a cue from you.
So, do things that help you maintain calm, such as putting your feet up when you’ve got the chance.
Because burning the candle at both ends is a recipe for disaster.
“Preparing the home for guests, traveling, buying gifts, entertaining: It’s hard to do all that in addition to the work of parenting,” Brown explained.
“Enjoy the moment. Know that the best holiday moments aren’t scripted, and take time to just relax. Your kids will thank you for it and they look to you as a role model… if you are calm, they will be, too.”
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