The winter holiday season can be a time of great joy and festivity, but it can also be stressful for families and children. It is important to maximize the fun and minimize your holiday stress.

Bringing family together can be wonderful. It lets children feel like they’re part of a community and experience a lot of love. However, extended family dynamics are often challenging for many families, which can create stress for parents and children. Giving and receiving presents can also be exciting, but parents may get tired of hearing whining or complaining about the presents their children receive (or don’t receive)!

Here are three tips for handling the holidays so that you and your children can enjoy the time together.

  1. When possible, keep routines in place
    Tired, cranky children increase stress for everyone involved. When possible, keep bedtimes and wake up times consistent and keep as many elements of the routine as consistent as possible in order to minimize fatigue and stress.

    Maintain a mostly healthful diet and incorporate the fun holiday treats in small ways throughout the season instead of all at once. Kids on a sugar high can also add to the stress of those around them!

  2. Manage your own stress
    Preparing holiday dinner, traveling, hosting family and buying gifts can be stressful and your stress will affect your children and your own enjoyment of the holiday season. When possible, take some time for yourself, get as much sleep as possible, delegate tasks and Google deep breathing exercises to practice at home.
  3. Don’t overschedule
    It is tempting to try to fit in as much as possible and schedule parties, activities and holiday events, but this may end up taking away from the fun. Make sure there is plenty of time to relax at home with the family playing games, reading books, watching a movie or sleeping.

    Not overscheduling can be a particular challenge for families of children whose parents don’t live in the same house, so make sure there is time for family bonding and relaxation with both sets of parents/families, even if it means sacrificing some other things.


Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two girls.

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