10 Tips for Helping Your Kids Enjoy Holiday Parties

...and behave themselves too!
child holiday social behaviour
© Can Stock Photo / Choreograph

The holiday party season is upon us, which means it’s time for you to make a difficult decision. Do you check the “yes” box, the “no” box, or the “maybe” box on that holiday party Evite that’s been sitting in your inbox for over a week now? You’d really like to go, your kid would have a blast, but his behaviour has been too all-over-the-place to predict lately. (Not to mention, the party is in middle of his naptime). You check the “maybe” box for now, decide not to decide, and thank your lucky stars for the person who invented the “maybe” box, who you’re 100% sure created the option for this exact situation.

Being a parent myself, I get it. We don’t like to take risks. As a professional who helps parents to tackle the everyday challenges of raising kids, however, I believe that when it comes to planning your social calendar for the holidays, a “wait and see” kind of attitude is, not only unnecessary, but also counter-productive. The truth is that while we don’t have total control over how our children act in any given situation, there are several things we can do to increase the likelihood that they behave themselves, and while they’re at it, even have a good time!

#1:Get the Intel

Find out as much information about the holiday get-together you’re planning to attend as possible. Just how kid-friendly is the event? Are there any special activities planned? What kind of food will be available? For parents who have an easy, “go-with-the-flow” kind of kid, you may not need to ask many questions. For other parents, it might be necessary to know the breed of dog the host owns! Either way, asking questions ahead of time ensures that we know what we’re getting ourselves (and our kids) into and saves us from spending the whole time trying to appease an antsy, itching, starving child. In that case, we might as well stay home.

#2: Know your kid

Do you have the kind of child that gets over-stimulated in the presence of a crowd? Or, are you the parent of a child who needs a lot of activity to stay on track? These are the kinds of things that are not only helpful to know about our children, but also necessary to respect. When it comes down to it, there is only so much we can do as parents to shape our kids’ behavior; the rest is who they are. Knowing the difference between what we can change and what we need to accept “as is” and come prepared to handle, not only saves us headaches during the holiday season, but also make us better parents the rest of the time.

#3: Have realistic expectations

Knowing the details (see tip #1) and respecting the general temperament of our kids (see tip #2) ensures that we, as parents, don’t throw our kids into the deep-end of a social situation they’re not yet ready (nor may ever be ready) to handle. In other words, it helps us to have realistic expectations so that we don’t set our kids up to fail and ourselves up to be frustrated. Here’s an example: the well-meaning parents of a hyperactive three-year-old, who take him out to a four-hour rendition of the Messiah. (I’m not judging, I’m simply warning that unless you have a musical prodigy on your hands, it’s probably not going to go so well).

#4: Prepare your child

This means not waiting until the last minute, when your child is immersed in his favourite activity to tell him it ‘s time to stop what he’s doing, put on that scratchy Christmas sweater, and go out into the cold. I don’t care who is scheduled to make a surprise guest appearance at the party, all your child knows at that point, is that you’ve stopped his fun to do something that is considerably less fun, which not only ripens the situation for protest, but could potentially result in flat-out refusal. Just how much lead-time should you give your child to prepare? It depends upon his age and temperament, but always make sure you allow enough time to go over the ground rules before you arrive at the party. (See Tip #5)

#5: Go over the ground rules

These are guidelines that help your child understand how you, and the rest of the world, expects her to behave in a given social situation. For some reason, the fact that our children are not born knowing how to share or keep their hands to themselves, but need to be explicitly taught and then constantly reminded, seems to slip from our minds all too often as parents. But if our children don’t know what we expect of them, how can we expect them to behave? Again, the kind of ground rules you set for your child depends upon both her age and temperament, but during the holiday season, it’s often helpful to develop guidelines around the whole giving-and-receiving ritual. Knowing how to do this is also something that our kids aren’t born with.

#6: Anticipate Boredom

With the advent of technological gadgets such as smart phones, MP3 players, tablets and laptops, kids today are more used to being entertained than ever before. This is another way of saying that today’s generation doesn’t handle boredom very well. The upshot for parents? Make sure you have a backup activity for your child, when he finds the function that you’ve taken him to less than thrilling. If you aren’t a fan of having him constantly plugged-in, bring along a holiday craft, a board game he can play with a friend, or see Tip #7.

#7: Allow for physical activity

Unless there’s a romper room in the basement of your building, this will mean taking your kids out into the cold to play. Although it’s a pain having to do all of that bundling and unbundling, it’s well worth the effort to have them arrive at (or come back to) the party placid, rosy-cheeked and totally spent from all of that great physical exercise. The need for discipline won’t even enter the picture.

#8: Let them indulge, but don’t over do it

Although many of us tend to over-indulge during the holidays, allowing ourselves to consume more sugar than usual, it’s important to keep mind that allowing our kids to do the same has different consequences for them. The result of too much sugar upon our kids’ bodies effects their energy, mood, concentration and overall behaviour, usually for the worse. So while it may be perfectly fine to let our kids have a few extra treats here and there, be prepared that it may mean having to do a little extra disciplining, here and there, too.

#9: Modify, but don’t ditch the routine

Like our diets, it’s easy as parents to let ourselves veer off the routine over the holidays when we don’t have to get up early for work or our kids don’t have school. Often, we let our younger children skip their naps in exchange for some precious extra time with the relatives they haven’t seen for awhile. A word of caution: Expecting a child to behave, not to mention enjoy himself, when he is overtired, is like expecting a bull to handle the teacups in a china shop gingerly. It’s not going to happen. Again, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever alter the routine, it just means we need to be prepared to handle the consequences of doing so.

#10: Don’t forget to have fun

At last, we have arrived at that tip I have prepared especially for you. You know who you are. You are the parent who wouldn’t dare sacrifice your baby’s afternoon nap so that she could be held by her adoring grandparents for just a little bit longer, or allow your mostly-compliant toddler to have one too many gingerbread cookies of the gluten-free variety. I promise, I’m not judging you either. I’m simply reminding you that when it comes to the holidays, it’s okay to let your kids (and yourself for that matter) relax and have a little fun. There’s plenty of time for rules and routines during the rest of the year!