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Parenting Corner – Holidays and Family Rituals

December 1, 2021

As holidays approach, the demands on families increase dramatically.

However, what children need from parents is time and attention, which may be in short supply this time of year. One way to enhance family relationships this season is to establish meaningful family rituals and traditions that help give children a sense of connection, identity, and values.  

Keep it simple.

Try not to overextend yourself (easier said than done!). People may be excited and feel more comfortable to attend get togethers this holiday season since many adults and older children are vaccinated, but you don’t have to say “yes” to every invitation that comes your (or your child’s) way. Having some downtime is important for kids, even if you need to block out that time on the calendar. Remember, especially for younger children, be mindful of their limitations in order to avoid meltdowns, tantrums, etc.

Think about how you want your family to experience the holidays.

Holidays do not have to be perfect or elaborate in order to be meaningful. The best holiday traditions for children may involve them helping with a manageable task or activity. Even a young child can help decorate, set the table, make a centerpiece or place cards, or decorate packages with stickers.  

Focus on traditions that emphasize connections.

Research on happiness has found that the biggest predictor of happiness is the social-emotional connections a person has, and the holidays are opportunities for reinforcing those. Religious families often enjoy attending a service together, which strengthens ties to a particular faith. Working together as a family unit to do something for others also helps combat some of the commercialism of the season by emphasizing giving rather than receiving. Such an activity might involve taking children to pick out presents for others in the family, choosing a toy/clothing item for a child as part of a gift giving drive, or making a holiday card for the neighbors. Remembering to check in on friends who may have experienced the loss of a loved one in the past year is another way we extend our circle of concern beyond our immediate family.

Sometimes we need to create new traditions.

Even more so, if there have been major family changes, such as a divorce or remarriage. The best way to identify what might be meaningful to children is to ask them what they look forward to and build on that. What children remember most fondly from last year might surprise you: it might be the time you played football outside after the family dinner or had hot chocolate with marshmallows on New Year’s Eve. If you had just thought of those as one-time only events, consider making them part of your annual traditions.

And it’s okay to drop some traditions, too!

If an activity or ritual causes too much stress for a family member who’s in charge, it might need to change, be delegated, or eliminated altogether. Remember, the emphasis should be on family, and if parents are feeling stressed, kids will, too. Doing less can create a more meaningful and enjoyable holiday season.

Lisa Phillips, a licensed social worker and parent educator at The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital, is a contributor to the award-winning “Parenting Corner” column. She can be reached at (504) 896-9591;

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