Holiday Survival Skill #1: Manage Yourself

The most essential skill for parents, at the holidays and every day? Manage yourself so you can stay calm and loving with your child.

Mom and daughter decorating their Christmas tree

My memories of Christmas as a child are of stress. My mother wanted everything to be perfect and got so worked up trying to do it all that it made the rest of the family crazy. I remember my dad comforting me when I was about 8 years old, I was crying and said ‘I hate Christmas’ and he said ‘I do, too, honey. We just have to get through it…

So for my kids I try to be relaxed and fun. We make ornaments for friends and family in December and give them out as we see people — gets us into the giving without thought of receiving. We take time to see the lights around town, to decorate and appreciate our tree. We talk about the other festivals of lights and remember that feasting and gifts are to make the darkest, coldest time of year merry. We celebrate the return of the sun. We relax and play and laugh and appreciate each other.” – Amy

The most essential skill for parents, at the holidays and every day? Manage yourself so you can stay calm and loving with your child.

Remember that the holidays aren’t just stressful for you, they’re actually stressful for children. So much desperate longing gets stimulated (just like for us.)  So much excitement gets triggered, which needs an outlet somewhere. All the school and community events mean that families are busier. Parents get more stressed, more snappish, which makes children act out. Schedules and sleep are disrupted. Children get anxious about whether they’re good enough, given all their “naughty” impulses (and that Elf watching their every move!)

Children depend on us, both to regulate their environment, and to help them regulate their moods. If you’re out of balance, you won’t be able to help your kids stay on an even keel. In fact, if you’re anxious about everything you have to get done, I promise you that your child will begin to act out.

Your kids don’t need a magazine-spread holiday. They need you, in a good mood, living the spirit of the season and spreading love and good cheer.  Here’s how.

  • Give up on perfection and accept that real parents get reality holidays, complete with messy kitchens, cranky kids and events that you can’t get to because somebody needs a nap.
  • Pare back your schedule to do only the essentials. Just say no to whatever doesn’t bring you joy.
  • Make sure you nurture yourself and stay in balance. Start by getting enough sleep.
  • Focus on family connection, rather than shopping or events.
  • Just say ‘No’ to comparing yourself to anyone else. You can’t see inside their family; you can only do what seems right for your family in this moment, and that is more than enough.
  • Be sure your own expectations of the season are reasonable.
  • The minute your mood veers from loving to frenzied, stop. Hug your children and regroup.
  • Count your blessings and say thank you for everything good in your life, every day.
  • Find ways to laugh at what will inevitably go wrong.
  • Pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well done, not just in December, but all year long.

No matter what December holiday you celebrate, it isn’t about shopping or instagram. It’s about the transformative power of love, and light. So fill your home with the real meaning of your holiday by focusing on presence, instead of presents. Which means keeping your own cup full, so you can be emotionally generous in filling everyone else’s.


Published with permission from Aha! Parenting by Dr. Laura Markham. 

Dr. Laura Markham trained as a Clinical Psychologist, earning her PhD from Columbia University.  But she’s also a mom, so she translates proven science into the practical solutions you need for the family life you want.