In the heat of the fireplace — or perhaps the heat of the moment — a holiday parenting dilemma may strike and make you feel like melting down… But you don’t need to. Here are potential solutions for successfully managing five top holiday issues:
Your eight-year-old comes home from school and announces that Santa Claus isn’t real.
Children either begin to figure out (or hear from peers) that Santa Claus isn’t real as they move from the magical and symbolic thinking of childhood toward the abstract and theoretical thought processes of adolescence. This usually occurs around ages seven to 11 years old.
The emerging certainty that Santa can’t possibly be real (or visit all the children in the world in one night or fit down the chimney, etc.) can lead to a sense of loss and feelings of disappointment, sadness, or even anger. Depending on the age of your child, you may find that your child wants to continue believing in Santa, or it might be time to come clean and tell them the truth (gently). Either way, allow your child to express their feelings about this new knowledge and give empathy and support. Provide reassurance that the holiday season will continue to be special and magical. If you still have little children in your home, enlist your older child as a wise and knowledgeable helper in creating a magical Santa experience for younger siblings. But overall, focus on creating holiday traditions that will outlive Santa and gifts and will provide deeper meaning to the holidays, such as spending time together as a family and helping other people and our world by volunteering or donating to charity.
During the past year, you and your spouse divorced/separated. How will you handle the holidays with the children?
Obviously, this will be a new experience for your family. The holidays will put your co-parenting to the test. With as much advance planning as possible (and without the kids around), discuss how to make the season smooth for everyone. Talk about which family traditions each household would like to continue and how these will be implemented. Family traditions, however small or seemingly insignificant provide structure for kids and help them feel safe in a world in which things are often unpredictable.
Be mindful that the holiday season following a divorce may also bring up a sense of loss for your children. Make sure you acknowledge these emotions and validate any feelings of grief and sadness. Let your family’s love for each other and family traditions will continue.
It’s also okay to start new traditions (with buy in from your kids). It can also be helpful to provide your children with a detailed schedule of family activities for the two households during the holiday season, so they know what to expect. While there may not be all the usual holiday activities as a family, continuing a few traditions separately (or together if possible) will maintain the fun, build memories and help your children’s resilience.
Your teenagers want to go with their friends while their grandparents are at the house for the holidays and/or are constantly texting and disengaged.
Sooner or later this desire for separation comes up for nearly all families with teenagers, as individuation from parents and other family members is a normal developmental task of adolescence. The good news is you can work on setting the expectation of your teens participating in specific family time year-round, not just during the holidays. Inform your teens in advance when you will be having family time together and be clear about expectations. You may even want to make cell phones off limits for everyone in the family for a couple of hours during family activities. By making family time without the distraction of personal electronics a normal occurrence throughout the year, you reinforce the importance of spending quality time together.
Another parent at your child’s school suggests that you withhold Christmas presents from your son/daughter because of poor grades or bad behavior.
The holidays are such an important opportunity for learning some big lessons in life – doing good deeds for others, the joy of giving rather than receiving, and creating memories together with family and friends. There are much more effective ways to address low grades or disruptive behaviors on a day to day basis than withholding presents once per year. During the holidays, give presents out of love with the primary goals of enriching your children’s lives and making memories.
As with Santa Claus, the Elf on the Shelf can represent a whimsical and fun experience to share together (especially when used as a creative family tradition and not to control children’s behavior during the holidays). It can be something children look forward to in the morning before everyone rushes off to work and school.
Holiday traditions should be enjoyable for everyone and ideally don’t add more pressure to an already busy season. If you want to implement a family tradition, do it because you enjoy it and not because of social pressure or guilt. And remember, you can always modify the Elf (or any tradition) for your own family while still cultivating fond memories. And remember, you don’t have to post the pictures on social media.
Megan Kale Morcomb, LCSW-S. Ms. Morcomb is currently the Program Director of the Adolescent Treatment Program (ATP) at The Menninger Clinic and was previously the Director of Outpatient Assessments at Menninger. Ms. Morcomb has her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Baylor University, and her master’s degree in social welfare in mental health from the University of California at Los Angeles.
Alton Bozeman, PsyD. Dr. Bozeman is an assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Services at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Bozeman earned his doctorate from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and his undergraduate degree from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. He completed a predoctoral internship in pediatric neuropsychology at University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital and a postdoctoral fellowship at Canyon Lakes Residential Treatment Center in Lubbock, Texas.