It’s that season again! The holidays are a time of festivity, joy, presents, family and, for many people, stress. It can be especially tricky trying to manage all the holiday expectations and festivities while trying to balance being a parent of a young child.

Not to worry! Here are a few tips for you to help make your holiday season go a whole lot smoother.

  • Prepare your child in advance
    Children do so much better when they know what to expect. Talk to your child about all the upcoming holiday plans. For older kids, you can use a calendar to mark the eventful days with pictures, words or stickers. Take the time to talk the night before and the morning of an eventful day about what’s going to happen. For example, “Today we’re having the family over for dinner. Grandma and Grandpa will be here, and so will your cousins”.
  • Plan with your child in mind
    If you’re going to be spending time out make sure there are age appropriate activities for your child. You can include them in picking out and packing a few favorite toys, books and so on to stay happily occupied. Buy a couple of new and interesting items that your child can use on their own to stay engaged, like sticker or coloring books, or a memory card game. If you’ll be on the road, there are many fun activity travel packs for young children that you can buy or find online to print out ahead of time.
  • Think of sleep
    Make sure you arrive and leave at times that are considerate of your child’s nap and bedtime. A cranky child is not a very happy child, so try to avoid planning too much in one day. You can also use the option of asking to stay over at your friend of family member’s place if it gives you more time together in the evening without having to wake your child up to go home.
  • Pack favorite foods
    Sometimes you’ll just want to sit and enjoy a nice dinner. Plan ahead and pack your child’s favorite foods, especially if they’re a picky eater. Having pasta two days in a row isn’t the end of the world. At least then you know he’ll eat happily and everyone will enjoy a nice, relaxing meal without all the fuss.
  • Learn to let go
    Sorry if you’re as sick as every other parent from that song, but yes, do try to let it go. Have realistic expectations of yourself, your partner and your children. Yes, it would be amazing to have an dinner a la Martha Stewart, but remember the purpose behind your outing or family gathering. It’s OK if things are not perfect or if you have to hide the mess in the spare room. Try to make things easier for yourself by asking friends and family to pitch in and don’t overwhelm yourself with too many things to do. Ask yourself how big of a deal is it to have those napkins with the Christmas trimmings on them that you have to make an extra trip to the store? Does your child have to sit in their highchair to eat if they’re being fussy or can you compromise just for today and have them sit at the table next to you? Do you have to insist that they finish all their food? Remember, they may be distracted with all the excitement around.
  • Involve your child
    Holidays are a busy time and kids can sometimes get pushed to the sidelines while you’re getting things done. Young children have a natural need to feel important and a part of something, or else they can start seeking attention through negative behavior. Involve your child throughout the day whenever possible. You can ask them to help you by picking out their favorite toys for the day. If you’re busy making dinner, they can help you peel an onion or place the napkins on the table. You might find your child to be surprisingly happy to be in charge of showing people where to hang their coats or opening the door for them on the way out.
  • Take care of yourself
    Remember the holidays are about family and bonding, not over scheduling. If it looks like you’ve taken on too much, call ahead and cancel or bring groups of people together according to your schedule if it will make it easier for you. That’s OK! Remember to take care of yourself as a parent. Children pick up on all our emotional cues, so if you’re stressed so are they, and if you’re calm and have yourself together they are more likely to respond to that positively.
  • Don’t forget to connect
    One of the main reasons young children act out is because they want attention. Be proactive in making your child feel secure and cared for by starting and ending the day with special, uninterrupted one-on-one time with them. This means no calls and no chores, just you, your partner and kids. Make it simple by taking 15 minutes to read a story, or to talk about their thoughts and feelings, as well as your own. Remember to say I love you and ask how they are doing throughout the day.

We hope these tips help make your holiday season more relaxing for you and your little one, and let you enjoy what the holidays are really about-family!