how to deal with family holiday stress

The holidays can be an incredibly stressful time for parents, so I’ve turned to parenting expert Sue Groner for some tips and tricks for dealing with family-related holiday stress.

It’s late on Christmas Eve. You’re bleary-eyed, devoid of cheer, and still not done wrapping presents. Every time the wind blows, you’re on high alert like a reindeer caught in the headlights. Was that a footstep? Are the kids still asleep? Wasn’t there an extra roll of tape around here somewhere?!

As your thoughts drift to tomorrow, your spirits are raised a bit. You think of the excited looks on your kids’ faces as they unwrap their gifts. A halo of bedhead encircles them and their eyes are wide and full of incredible joy. Your heart just might burst.

Then you consider what will happen when sugar is added to their already excited little bodies. And what will happen when this mixture is then combined with judgy relatives just waiting to help improve your parenting skills.

Does this rollercoaster sound familiar?

The holidays can be a bitch. With all the warm, happy, holly jolly feelings, there is also a definite side of stress. Whether money is tight, there’s family drama, or your kids have reached a point of overstimulation you’re just not sure they’ll come back from, it can be difficult to know just how to deal.

Since I’m no expert, I decided to pick the brain of Sue Groner, founder of The Parenting Mentor and author of the new book Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your World.

dealing with holiday stress_ a survival guide for parents - with expert tips and tricks from The Parenting Mentor

What’s the best way to diffuse overstimulated, giddy kids before they enter the scary meltdown zone?

A little quiet time always helps to diffuse wild and crazy kids, but that’s not always easy to implement.

One thing that really works is tea time! A warm cup of herbal or decaffeinated tea (I prefer adding milk and honey) can work wonders. If you make it a special ritual, your kids will want to be a part of it. Selecting the tea, brewing, and then using a pretty teapot and/or mugs, will help get your kids on board. It will feel like something grown-ups do. You can use tea time to read your children a book, watch a short video, or even listen to classical music! Young kids will think it’s very special and they’ll eventually ask for tea time!

Do you have any advice on dealing with relatives (especially those who question and/or undermine your parenting) during family gatherings?

Judgemental relatives are sure to get under the skin of any parent. Most of those “offering advice” are well-meaning; they love you and your children, but that doesn’t really make it any better.

Instead of letting these comments fester or engaging in a dialogue about it, cut these comments off as quickly—and as politely—as possible.

Here are two suggestions:

  • “Oh, Aunt Tilly, I know you are just trying to be helpful because you love me and Johnny and I so appreciate your concern. But I’m very comfortable with how I’m parenting right now. If I ever need help though, I’ll definitely ask you.”
  • “Thanks for your thoughts on this, mom. We are happy with our rules right now. I know you are not always going to agree with everything I do as a parent and that’s okay. I bet Grandma didn’t always agree with you and I’m sure that Maddie isn’t going to parent the way I do. I do love you for caring.”

If they try to continue with the advice/judgment, just repeat what you said and add “Thanks. I’ll take your ideas into consideration,” and then change the topic. You will feel good and in control of the situation.

how to deal with family holiday stress

My tween has lost a lot of her holiday cheer this season and I’m having a hard time with it. Do you have any tips on reacting positively when kids reach that stage when they’re less interested?

This too shall pass! Tweens and teens may go through phases where they are just too cool for some of the family holiday activities. Don’t let their lack of “cheer” bring you down though. It’s better not to force them to participate in holiday activities if they are just going to be Debbie Downers.

If your child has sent you clear signals that she’s not up for some of your annual holiday activities, let it go. Acknowledge her feelings (E for Empathy) and show her respect (the last R of my CLEARR parenting method). “I hear you, sweetie. It seems like this year you’re just not feeling it. We’d really love for you to join us for the holiday train show, but if you really don’t want to, please make plans with a friend.”

What can I do to make sure my kids are grateful and not greedy and entitled during a season when they’re constantly being given gifts?

Part of the magic of the holiday season for kids is getting lots of gifts! Don’t you remember how much fun it was when a relative or your parents’ friends would come over and hand you a beautiful box with a big bow? Your children have the same excitement and anticipation this time of year.

Don’t worry—they aren’t going to become entitled just because of that. There are a few things you can do though:

  • Have your kids write thank-you notes to everyone that gives them a gift. (see tip # 78 in my book)
  • Have one gift be a donation—but your child gets to choose where he or she would like to donate the money. It can be a small amount, even $5 or $10. It’s the thought and the act of giving that count.
  • Talk about how fortunate you are, but not in a way that makes your kids feel guilty about having “stuff” that others don’t have. They can’t help that they are part of your family and shouldn’t be made to feel bad that they have what some other children don’t have. “Wow! Aren’t we such a lucky family! I’m lucky because I get to wear the warmest, fluffiest slippers—in my favorite color! What makes you feel lucky?”
  • You can also refer to tips 53, 54, 57 and 58 in my book and try to do these periodically.

What do you stress about during the holidays (if it’s searching for that perfect gift, be sure to check out my gift guides!)? Let us know in the comments!

Sue Groner - The Parenting Mentor

SUE GRONER is the founder of The Parenting Mentor, created to help parents become happier and more relaxed by learning strategies to reduce the everyday stress and anxiety of parenting. Groner, the creator of the CLEARR™ Parenting Method, provides individual and small group on-site and virtual mentoring sessions for parents of toddlers through teens. She is the author of the recently released book, Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your WorldYou can also find her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Written by Jennifer Garry
Jen is a freelance writer and girl mom from New York. When she's not knee-deep in glittery crafts and girl talk, you can probably find her sprawled across her couch in the middle of a Netflix marathon with dark chocolate smeared on her face. The struggle is real.