How to Create Happy Holidays with Your Children

The holiday season can be a very busy and stressful time for you and your families. Often the focus becomes gifts and events, rather than special times with your loved ones. Unfortunately, children’s senses are filled with messages of materialism and commercialism. However, the memorable moments of holiday celebrations have nothing to do with gifts or presents.

Children, during their formative years, make connections to what happened when they felt certain emotions, and these connections are stored in the long-term memory banks. Children recall experiences from childhood that were significant in some way, so the deeper the feeling a situation creates, the more likely that experience is to create a long-lasting impact.

The holidays can provide many opportunities to create unforgettable memories, especially when the focus becomes family, friends, selfless acts and giving. This is easier when the hectic pace of the season is managed by purposeful activities to slow down and enjoy times together. This choice will make the season merrier for you, your family and others. Here are are a few ideas for you to consider:

  1. During the holidays, choose a night each week that can be designated “Family Night”. Watch a movie, read stories, order pizza, whatever suits your families needs.
  2. Do not commit to activities that pull you and your children in different directions. Plan activities that include all members of the family and keep things relaxed.
  3. Visit a nursing home or hospital, elderly neighbor or relative, or local shelter to spread holiday cheer. These locations love visitors this time of year.
  4. Volunteer as a family to partner with a community organization that provides for under-privileged families. Holiday meals, toy drives and family sponsorships are common ideas.
  5. Keep your house as calm and soothing as possible. Eliminate clutter and noise by working together to get the gifts wrapped and turning off electronics to talk instead.
  6. Continue with family traditions that are part of your history. If you do not know of any, ask an older relative to share memories of their holidays and see what you can find out.
  7. Start a new family tradition of baking cookies, making homemade greeting cards, singing carols together, lighting candles at dinner or bedtime, start a family scrap book or diary, etc. Be creative!
  8. Try to avoid taking young children shopping, as they cannot understand the concept of selflessness. Cut down on their exposure to commercials that encourage lots of spending.
  9. Use the rule of thumb, “Spend half as much money as usual and spend twice the amount of time with your family as usual”. This will help you keep things in the right perspective.
  10. Focus on activities that bring your family closer together and acknowledge the needs of others. Involve your kids in the process of holiday planning as well. They often see things from a more innocent perspective and can create wonderful traditions to add to yours.


After making the decision to focus on your family this year, the holidays also provide an opportunity to teach children the importance of sharing, giving and love. The more exposed they are to opportunities that allow for learning social and emotional cues, the more it will have an impact long term. Thus, during the holiday season, take advantage of the chance to demonstrate gratitude and generosity. Here are two inspired ideas for each principle:


  1. Live out a family version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – Identify a friend, relative or neighbor to receive all of the “gifts.” Then, determine as a family how to create a unique gift for each day of the song (i.e., five golden rings could be five glazed donuts) and place the gifts at the recipient’s front door with a little note explaining the gift. This teaches kids to be appreciative of what they have and to understand selflessness.
  2. Secret Santa (outside of work) – Everyone has done one at work, but this works well as a family activity. Choose one person you know who is lonely, needy or just needs some encouragement. Purchase or make a special gift and on Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning, and take it as a family to the person’s home. Leave it with a note, “From your Secret Santa” at the door. Children will learn how it feels to do something for someone else with no personal gain, which serves as the root of altruism.


1. Hostess Gifts – Hosts of gatherings should be given a small gift as a gesture of appreciation. Kids can be involved in determining what the gift is and actually presenting it to the host. Not only do kids love feeling included and important, this helps them master etiquette and social graces before they are required.

5.  Thank Yous – Express gratitude for any gift received, regardless of whether or not you already have it or like it. Encourage kids to find something positive say about the gift, such as the color or use. Kids tend to say the honest truth without thinking about whether or not it will hurt the giver’s feelings. Kids can practice finding something to say in response, even if it is as simple as “that was nice of you.” Then your child should follow up with a written note. This not only teaches the lost art of the written word, but also how to appropriately express gratitude for being invited to gatherings and given gifts.

These suggestions are applicable for children of any age, although modifications of expectations may be needed. Children will have greater difficulty with changes in routine due to the holidays and challenges with handling social functions, but these can be handled with preparation and accommodation.

The holidays provide families with plenty of chances to enjoy each other, learn from each other, spend meaningful time with each other, and create memories with each other. If the focus shifts from gifts and materialism to quality time and family, the holiday season is sure to bring joy, peace and love. And we could all use more of those things in our lives all year long.

Brenna Hicks is a licensed mental health counselor and play therapist in Tampa Bay, FL and has been featured on CNN and in the New York Times. She provides parenting advice and topics on her blog, and is currently completing her ph.d. in counseling at the university of South florida.For more information, visit or