In Ask Nicole, Holidays

Ask Nicole: Getting Ready for the Holidays

Nicole M. Young, MSW

The holidays we celebrate serve as an important reminder to be thankful for what we have –including each other. However, holidays can also be a difficult time for many families, and heightened stress and tension can highlight our human flaws. Although many people are looking forward to gathering in person with friends and family, others might be feeling worried or anxious about the increased risk for illnesses, social awkwardness, or heated debates turning into arguments and hurt feelings. Holidays can quickly become something “to get through” instead of a time for reflection and celebration. Sound familiar?

Dear Nicole, I have several family members visiting us over the holidays, which means my kids (ages 3 and 7) will be excited, but their lives will be disrupted for a while. My kids already have meltdowns when they get overexcited or their routines are disrupted – and I know that will happen when we have visitors. I’m already feeling stressed out. What can I do?  Oscar

Dear Oscar, Many children and adults love the excitement and special activities during the holidays, but it can also be a stressful time. Hectic schedules, endless errands, high expectations, tight budgets, family conflict, or different personal and political beliefs can all create enormous pressure on parents and caregivers. Holidays can be hard for children, too, if they get bored, tired, hungry, over-stimulated or overwhelmed. Children often communicate their needs and feelings through behaviors such as whining, complaining, tantrums and refusing to follow directions — adding to parents’ stress. Here are a few tips to try:

Maintain your children’s daily routines for eating, sleeping, and playing. The predictability of daily routines helps children feel secure and can prevent meltdowns caused by being tired, hungry, over-stimulated, or overwhelmed. Ask family members about their plans for mealtimes, exchanging gifts, or other activities while they’re visiting, and let them know about your children’s schedules. This allows you to discuss whether any plans can be modified so your children can participate, or at least helps others understand that your children may have to follow a different schedule than the adults.

Talk to your children about your holiday plans. Talk about which relatives will be visiting and when, as well as any important family, cultural, or religious traditions. If they haven’t met any relatives yet, show them pictures and describe how they’re related to your family. If other children will be visiting, talk about and then practice sharing toys. You may want to let your kids pick a few special toys that they don’t have to share and put them away before visitors arrive.

Talking with children not only increases their vocabulary and thinking skills, but also gives them a “mental picture” of what to expect, which helps prepare them to face unfamiliar situations. Have simple, engaging activities ready for your children. This helps prevent meltdowns caused by boredom or restlessness. Be ready with a variety of healthy snacks, books, and games for kids to play together. Watch for cues that your kids are getting restless, need a change of pace, or need a break from being around a lot of people. And a modest amount of age-appropriate  screen time (TV, movies, video games, computer) can give both children and parents a much-needed break after constant activities and socializing.

Encourage the behavior you want to see more of. Give your children descriptive praise when they are being kind, helping others, following family rules, or expressing their feelings appropriately. This shows them you notice and appreciate their efforts and encourages them to keep it up.

Take time for yourself. Being a parent is already a hard job that can become even more stressful during the holidays, especially when you’re hosting visitors. It’s important to find ways to relieve stress before it affects your ability to enjoy the holidays with your family. If possible, ask another family member to watch your children so you can do something you enjoy, such as catching up with a relative, getting some exercise or sitting in a quiet room by yourself.

Final thoughts: Holidays provide special opportunities to enjoy quality family time, but they can also add stress and pressure for many families. Try a few of these positive parenting strategies to help you and your family fully enjoy the holidays.

This monthly column provides tips for anyone who is helping raise children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, email me at

Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 19 and 22, who also manages Santa Cruz County’s Triple P -Positive Parenting Program, the world’s leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. To find a Triple P parenting class or practitioner, visit,, or contact First 5 Santa Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or

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