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Let the Happy, Hectic Holidays Begin!

I grew up in a family of six, which meant that holiday gatherings were always loud and hectic, even if they only involved my immediate family. When my siblings and I started having our own families, holiday gatherings at my parents’ house were like a carnival, an all-you-can-eat buffet, and a soap opera all at once. Lots of games and laughter, constant eating, and the inevitable tantrum – from children or adults. It was sensory overload at times, but I kind of miss those happy, hectic holidays.

This article is created by Nicole Young, the mother of two children, ages 14 and 17, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is available locally through the Child Parent Institute. Our classes are listed at

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Dear CPI,

My extended family is staying at my house for a week during the holidays, and I’m getting nervous about it. They are loud and spontaneous, and my 5- and 7-year old kids like their quiet space and predictable routines. They have major meltdowns whenever there’s too much chaos around them. My family doesn’t understand that, and they think my kids need to loosen up and have more fun. I want these family members to feel welcome in my home, but not at the expense of my kids. What should I do?


Dear Noemi,

Celebrating the holidays with family can be both exciting and stressful, especially when there’s a mix of personalities and preferences involved. The fact that you’re thinking about balancing your children’s needs with providing a welcoming environment for your family means you’re on the right track. Here are a few tips to try:

Prepare your family members for life in your house. Talk to them ahead of time about their hopes and expectations for their visit and ask what their daily routines are like – what and when they eat, when they go to sleep and wake up, what they like to do during the day, etc. If their habits seem very different from your family’s, let them know what parts of your children’s schedules you’ll be trying to keep consistent – like mealtimes or bedtimes – so that they are happy, well-rested, and ready to interact with visitors. If your family wants everyone to participate in special activities that would disrupt your children’s usual routines, try to work out the details with them before they arrive so you can help your children prepare mentally and emotionally for the changes.

Prepare your children for visitors. Talk about the family members that will be visiting, what rooms they’ll be staying in, any toys or space they’ll be sharing with visitors, and important family, cultural or religious traditions you’ll be celebrating together. Let them know if any rules or routines will be different while you have guests staying in your house. For example, if they usually wake up early, let them know they’ll need to be quiet if your guests are still asleep, then help them think of quiet activities they can do in the mornings. 

Maintain your daily routines as much as possible. Try to follow your children’s usual routines for eating, playing, and sleeping so they have a sense of familiarity and predictability. If aspects of their routines need to change while your family is visiting, offer your children alternatives and choices. For example, if family dinners are later than what your children are used to, let them choose a small, healthy snack at their usual dinnertime to help keep them satisfied until everyone sits down to eat.

Have engaging activities and quiet spaces available. Let your children know it’s ok to a break away from the rest of the family if they’re feeling bored, tired, or overwhelmed. Help them pick a quiet place they can go to when they need a break and have games, books, toys, art projects or other activities they enjoy ready for them. 

Give your children encouragement and attention. Give a smile, wink, hug, pat on the back, or high five to let your kids know you notice them, even when you’re busy talking to or taking care of your visitors. Give descriptive praise to show you appreciate the part they’re playing in helping to make your family feel welcome.

Final Thoughts: Holidays are a special time for many families, but a whirlwind of visitors and activities that disrupt children’s daily lives can add unwanted stress and pressure. Try a few of these positive parenting tips to help everyone – including you – enjoy the hectic holidays.

Child Parent Institute

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