Children and the Holidays

by Tom Seman MD FAAP December 6th, 2012 | Pediatrician on Call
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A parent asked me to explain why the holidays are always so stressful and bring out such bad behaviors in her child. Also, how could she show the child the true meaning of the holiday without lecturing?

Well, it is time for the holidays. No matter what religion one may practice, the main aspects of all of the holidays is faith, family, and the belief in miracles. The holidays present a variety of stressors and opportunities for a child. The many outings, parties, sweets, and altered bedtimes, even when there is fun involved, can throw off a child’s routine. Children previously well-behaved may throw tantrums or fight with siblings, cousins, or friends. Sharing and giving, found in the holidays, encourages a sense of wanting and the expectation in the child’s mind that the child will receive everything he desires.  It seems the more candy canes, cookies, and punch available, the more “I want” becomes his mantra and continues to change his routine.

Parents needs to remember that as much as possible – sameness is goodness, especially with the younger child. The predictability of the routine as much as possible keeps the child grounded. Unable to tell time, the young child monitors his day by the timing of the events of the day. With all of the changes that occur during this time of year, it is important to warn the child ahead of time of any schedule changes such as cancellations of activities or added activities. Placing the new event in context of other events of the day decreases the stress of the new activity on the child, better allowing the child to enjoy the event.

Monitoring the child and giving him some breaks during the party/event is important. This may be in the form of a prolonged bathroom break or going outside for a few minutes to cool off when the house gets warm from all of the extra people. Perhaps having a small toy that a parent can pull out of his/her pocket that acts as a distraction for just a few minutes allowing the younger child to go back to the gathering refreshed for a while longer. The older the child the more complex the “toy,” which may include items such as a camera to interest the child in other aspects of being a guest at a party. Of course explain to the child that he should ask before taking pictures of others.

Although everyone is interested in receiving gifts, someone has to give those gifts. Involving the child with this aspect of the holiday is very important. A child needs to see the thought and care one uses to pick out a present and its presentation to its recipient, thus getting him to realize that it is not the cost of the gift but the heartfelt “value” that makes the gift priceless. Explaining the importance in some words, but mostly in deeds, during this time of year will resonate within the child, thus increasing the frequency that he will be willing to enjoy giving rather than receiving. Thus the child learns to appreciate the season. In turn, decreased stress allows the child to enjoy the holiday in a more internal way.  Volunteerism, taking time to show thoughtfulness in gift giving, and giving time to help others are three most important gifts of the season and demonstrates the connectivity between all of us.

Happy Holidays!

Good Luck,



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All health and medical information is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to replace the medical advice or treatment of your healthcare professional.