The holidays are supposed to be fun, right? But when you’ve got kids, the best laid plans can turn to nightmares. Here’s a list of helpful tips to make sure you holiday fun is actually enjoyable for all.
- Stick to your children’s eating and sleeping schedules. Don’t be tempted to do a lights festival or party after your child’s bed time, even if it will mean disappointing your relatives. Yes, kids can often can stay up, but you’re courting hyperactivity, tantrums, and a horrible tomorrow. Wait until they are over 8 to let them stay up more than a half hour after bedtime. Wherever you go, always have a snack with protein handy, as well as a change of clothes so an accident or spill does not ruin the day.
- Stay in ‘kid friendly’ places. Grandparents houses, churches, concerts, and fancy parties are fun for adults, not so much for kids. It can be hard to stand your ground with relatives about bringing the children to their houses, but don’t give in to the guilt. If you must visit someone who does not have kids (or hasn’t for over 20 years) make the stay short or get a hotel room. Ask people to please put breakables up where the children can not reach them, or hide antiques in the closet. Bring toys, a dvd player, and lots of snacks if the kids will be expected to amuse themselves during adult chatting time. If it is not a place where a child can make noise and move around ever 20 minutes or so, it is probably an event for the 8 and older crowd.
- Keep events age-appropriate. Remember that the younger the child, the more frequently they need to move around. For a child under 4, don’t expect quiet sitting for more than 20 minutes. For 5-7, realistically plan on getting anywhere from 30 min to an hour of sitting (if the activity is really engaging). Watch out for scary things as well. The Mouse King in the nutcracker or a Disney movie where the parent dies can be too much for little ones, so avoid showing them something you have not seen yourself recently. Just because it is advertised for children does not mean that it was actually planned by someone who knows much about kids!
- Make relatives play by your rules! Relatives love to treat kids at the holidays, but ask ahead what they have planned. You want to find out ahead of time if they plan on giving a 12 inch chocolate Santa to a five year old child right before dinner, or if the gift is a plastic machine gun or something with a million parts that takes an hour to assemble. Ask your relatives to give no more than one gift, and not to show it to the child until he actually gets to unwrap it.
- Watch what your children may overhear . At family gatherings, people love catch up, and that can mean gossip that you would not want your kids to hear. You won’t want your child finding out about Grandpa’s biopsy results or your cousin’s miscarriage by overhearing it. If your child has a disability or an illness, tell your relatives you won’t be discussing it anywhere they children could overhear. Your kids deserve some privacy. That goes double for your relatives sharing their opinions about things that are none of their business, such as your child’s bedwetting problem or that your daughter can’t read yet when all her cousins can. Relatives may have to be actively discouraged from comparing the children or sharing ‘horror stories’ of the children’s transgressions. Limit your kid’s exposure to the ‘toxic’ relatives. If the kids are anywhere within a half mile, one is sure to overhear these sorts of comments—and they can hurt.
- YOU discipline YOUR children. A good rule for wherever you go is that YOU, the parent, discipline your own children. It is very tempting at a party to let the kids go into the basement and have a huge nerf gun battle, but don’t assume all is well down there just because you don’t hear screaming. Bigger kids can pick on smaller kids, and a lack of supervision provides the opportunity for them to do so. Additionally, the play may become inappropriate if the kids realize that no one is watching. An adult should make an appearance at least every ten minutes for older kids, and supervise directly if any kids under 5 are playing.
It is important that you be the one to set the rules and enforce them. Relatives may intend to help you, or may try to enforce their idea of what is polite, but they should not interfere with your right to parent. While Grandma may mean well, her parenting methods from the 1970s may hurt more than help, especially for a child who struggles with self-control. Of course this means you get less time to sit and schmooze with the grown-ups, but if the event goes well, it is worth it. Just like you designate a ‘designated driver’, try taking turns being the one to keep the kids under supervision.
When in doubt about an event, save it for next year!