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How to have a happy family Christmas

Happy Family Christmas

Parenting experts Laurie Berdahl MD, and Brian D Johnson PhD, give their advice on how to make sure you have harmonious holidays with your children and relatives


Before each major holiday event, talk with parenting partners and your children about everyone’s desires and concerns.

Who would you like to be with, where, and for how long? Which activities and meals are the most important? How can preparation work be shared and minimised? What’s the budget? Also discuss alcohol, cigarettes, TV, video games, including kids’ friends, bedtimes and other touchy subjects. 

Plan ahead

Make a plan that includes parts of what each member would like, with flexibility. Spending pleasant time with loved ones will likely matter much more than extravagant activities, venues, and food. And research shows that kids grow up remembering family activities much more than gifts received.

If children will be splitting time between you and another parent, making arrangements early will reduce stress and improve chances of happy holidays for all.

Build family Christmas traditions

Playing games, watching your favourite TV shows or going to a Christmas church service supports family peace using predictability. If kids resist, just politely state your wish: ‘It’s very important to me that we share this, and I’ll join you in the activity you wanted.’

Be prepared

Holidays aren’t good times for conflict resolution or behaviour management training. 

Young children get overstimulated easily and misbehave, so provide downtime. Underscheduling helps avoid conflict – there often isn’t time for everything planned.

Also, try to remember past family conflicts to anticipate and avert them.

  • Avoid argument triggers or topics that brought on fights, bad feelings, or defensiveness: parenting methods, gift giving, who is caring for elderly parents, accomplishments, and...POLITICS! If you find yourself wanting to say something that might seem critical, walk away. 
  • Limit time with people you’ve had arguments with before.
  • Let others decide things of low importance. 
  • If you anticipate alcohol contributing to conflict, you might limit the supply or ask that an event you host be alcohol-free. Make it a joke (say, ‘We’re doing Dry January early to be different!’) or simply say, ‘We’d appreciate no drinking.’ 
  • If adult children are bringing friends home, decide sleeping arrangements in advance.

How to calm things down

  • Use humour: don’t tease, but tell a joke or do something silly to ease tension.
  • Pick a place (an area of the house, the park etc) to go if things get uncomfortable. 
  • Change the subject or take a time out by saying something like ‘I’m tired—let’s talk later.’
  • Be able to give in or let go (even if you are right!).

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

Updated: May 2018

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