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The holidays are a time that we want to share family traditions with children. We have fond memories of our own childhood - opening presents on Christmas morning, lighting the menorah, traveling to grandparents house for Thanksgiving, the list goes on and on. But with all of the memories and traditions we want to pass on to our kids, it is necessary to consider the expectations we have for young children during the hectic holiday season. Some extra planning, preparation or alternative activities may be needed to keep the holidays from quickly becoming a stressful and unhappy time for everyone.

First and foremost parents know their children best! As the parent, it is your right, and responsibility, to set limits on what activities your child participates in. It is ok to respond to invitations from family and friends with a 'no thanks' if there is too much scheduled to enjoy the season.

Individual child temperament is a very important thing to consider when tackling the holiday schedule. Some children, even infants, can be laid back and able to come along for just about any activity. Other children may not enjoy doing special activities during certain times of the day, in different environments, with different people, etc... Even for the 'laid back' child, it is important to consider what the activity is and if it is appropriate for them to be out really late or in a very noisy environment for an extended period of time. Once again, as your child's parent, you know best, and if something doesn't seem to be a good fit for your child, don't attend.

Here are some specific examples of some common family activities and things to consider. Keep in mind, there is also nothing wrong with changing your mind based on your child's reaction. Maybe a visit will only be 2 hours instead of 6, etc...

Dinner at someone else's house

Depending on the space available, consider bringing along a pack and play or other items to help your child, especially infants and toddler, stick to their routine or schedule. If your child sleeps every day from 1 – 3, they probably are not going to be able to sit at the table with the family if dinner is served at 2. Let the host/hostess know up front that you're are happy to come, but that your child might need a place to sleep during the dinner.

Outdoor activities

There is a large and ever growing body of research that being outdoors is good for children. Even young children, if dressed appropriately, can be outside in pretty chilly temperatures. Unless there are weather warnings, your young child might be just fine spending a little time outside at a lighting display, selecting a Christmas tree, etc. Once again, be conscious of your child’s typical routine and take that into account in regards to timing for events. Also, keep a close eye on your child's comfort. Not only can children get chilly, they can also overheat! Sometimes in an attempt to be cautious, we end up overdressing our children, which can actually make them colder if they get sweaty.

Visiting Santa

Fortunately for my mother (and me!), I never really minded the jolly man in the red suit. That is NOT the case for all children. Often infants go through phases of 'stranger danger' where they get very scared of unknown people. Some children are always weary of strangers (which is what we tend to teach them!), so if they aren't a fan of Santa, don't push it. That being said, children are always growing and learning. Just because your child was scared of Santa last year, doesn't mean they might not want to see him this year. Consider having conversations with your child about Santa before getting in the car to the local mall. Once you get to Santa, keep a close eye on your child's behavior, but be careful not too pass your own concerns on to them. Maybe go up with them or have a sibling or friend go along.

Take two cars!

If attending an event that is local, consider taking two cars, especially if your have more than one child attending or other family members going along. While you might save on fuel and parking by packing into your van, avoiding an exhausted (and upset!) toddler or the disappointment of family members that don't understand is probably worth it.

These are just a few examples of a wide variety of expectations we might have for young children during the holidays. Try to look at the big picture and remember that being respectful of the children in the families individual temperaments, as well as their age in relation to what they can and can't handle will make everyone's holiday a lot brighter!

Katie Fink

The UNL Learning Child Team

Katie Fink has a B.S and M.A. in Early Childhood and Early Intervention from The Ohio State University. She is a member of the Learning Child Team with University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. Her areas of specialization include using technology to develop interactive and easily accessible programs for child care professionals and families and supporting early childhood professionals in creating quality early learning environments for all children. Learn more about Katie and the rest of The ...

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