Helping Kids Handle Holiday Events

When family events come up, especially during the holiday season, most of us spend our energy focusing on things like:

• Taking care of last-minute details
• Buying gifts
• Planning menus or preparing for guests

And how to squeeze in all the programs, dinners, seasonal activities, and parties into our already full schedules.

However, as we bustle around we often forget how difficult attending some of these events can be for our children. How many of us are guilty of trying to bribe our children for good behavior, repeatedly reminding them that Santa is watching only to eventually find ourselves stressed to the point of losing our cool or praying under our breath that little Johnny doesn’t have a major meltdown at your company’s family Christmas party this year.

Whether you are taking a long trip in the car, shopping in the mall, sitting at a restaurant, or at a family gathering (holiday season or not), here are a few tips that might help both you and your kids survive.

Think ahead

Take a few minutes to think about past holidays and consider the following when planning for upcoming seasonal gatherings or trips

  • Where or when might your kids have a difficult time during a holiday event or activity?
  • What is most challenging for them?
  • What might help them manage their behavior better?


Consider packing a small bag or backpack with items to keep kids busy. Things like stickers, paper, pencils, crayons, small activity books, short books they can read, or word puzzles usually work well. Take your children’s personality and age into consideration when choosing items.

You may also want to include things like bottled water and small packages of healthy snacks so kids aren’t tempted to overindulge in sodas and sweets. (By the way, this works with older kids too. Usually, my teens are just as eager to dive into the bag for snacks as my younger children.)

Plan with kids

As much as possible, include children in planning and let them help prepare for the event. Talk to them about what to expect so they won’t be caught off guard. Let them know important details (when, where, and who) and what you expect of them during the celebration, occasion, or activity. Consider delegating a task or job they can do to help out.

Catch them being good

During the event, make sure you let your kids know when they are doing a good job of behaving. Try to give them kudos throughout instead of waiting until the end.

Give breaks as needed

If your child seems a little overwhelmed or on the verge of having problems, give them a break by removing them from the situation. Try taking a short walk, get some fresh air outside or engage in a quiet conversation that helps them redirect their attention.

Pick one event that you will be attending with your children and schedule in 15 to 20 minutes to prepare ahead of time. Try implementing at least three of the tips listed above and see how it changes things for both you and your kids.

Looking for more practical tips and insight on how to deal with the tough everyday issues separated and divorced parents face?

Learn more about divorce and children or check out my new book, Parenting Apart: How Separated and Divorced Parents Can Raise Happy and Secure Kids.

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