Posted by: Hannah | 12/10/2013

holiday how-to

December is hard on little kids.

They are at an absolute fever pitch of excitement. Everything is wacky! There are trees indoors! Lights everywhere! Elves on shelves! (not in this house, mind you).

Bedtimes are all over the map because of social engagements, Christmas concerts, last-minute shopping, TV specials.

There is probably more sugar than usual.

Mix all that together and what you’re left with is a bunch of overtired, overstimulated kids who are jacked up on sugar and incapable of understanding how many sleeps there are until The Big Day.

I find it gets worse once kids are in a school-type environment, too. They feed off of one another’s excitement, fueling the madness like a perpetual motion machine, whipping each other into a frenzy until they totally come apart.

Today Ron got off the bus, like always, saw me, and promptly burst into heartbroken tears for absolutely no reason at all. I gave him a big hug and tried to get out of him what was wrong.

N-n-n-nothing! I woke up wrong! I didn’t have a good day! School was bad!

By the time we got in the house and I let him open a Christmas card that came in the mail, he was fine. But his behaviour has been kind of erratic lately, and it’s getting worse with each passing day. He’s also really clingy. I’d be more worried except I remember this from when Harry was his age. He’s just a tightly-coiled bundle of anticipation and gingerbread, and can’t process it.

The preschoolers are having a rough time, too. Today Pixie woke up from her more-than-adequate nap, went calmly to the bathroom, had a pee, and promptly burst into hysterical tears.  Again, I tried to find out what was wrong.

I don’ know! I yam COLD! I yam HUNGWEE! *incoherent sobbing*

Got her into a sweater. Handed her a banana. Watched her talk to the banana for a while as she ate it. By the time the last of it had disappeared down her throat she was fine, storm of weeping forgotten.

This is my fourth Christmas with a dayhome, and I’ve learned a few things. I’m not perfect. I make some of the same mistakes with my kids, especially George, since older kids can tolerate more upheaval and I don’t want them to miss out on traditions or activities they enjoy. That said, here’s a short list of things to consider as December wears on and we all get a little frazzled:

1. Stick to your family routine as much as possible. If your kids usually go to bed at 7:30 and wake up at 6, try to stick that as much as you can. Yes, I know, you want to share A Charlie Brown Christmas with them and you don’t have the DVD. If you have a PVR, record it for watching at an earlier time. Or check YouTube. Little kids might seem totally OK with staying up until 9PM on a school night to watch Santa Claus is Coming to Town, but do that every night for a month and you will have problems.

2. Accept that you’re going to miss out on some things. Oh, to be childless during the holidays! So many merry holiday dinner parties and kitchen parties and party-parties and WOO. Well, unless you have a really good babysitter that the kids are already familiar with, you’re going to have to cut back. And all those Awesome Fun Afternoon Shindigs that families do in big groups over December? They are exhausting and draining for kids, especially little ones. I know a mom of three young kids who has such a crowded social calendar in December that it requires a spreadsheet to keep track of everything. That’s… probably too much.

3. Really small children don’t know what Advent is or why it needs a calendar. I fell victim to this one this very year, when Michael picked up three Lindt Advent calendars for the boys. George sure did pick up quickly on the idea that there is a candy! Every morning! HOLY CRAP MOM YOU’VE BEEN HOLDING OUT ON ME! But it would have been less painful to just get them for the older boys and have them keep them in their room.

4. Don’t use Santa like a club. I made this mistake once, and only once, when Harry was four. I didn’t think anything of it because lord knows I spent my entire childhood hearing that Santa will come if you’re good. Imagine my guilt when one day in the car I asked him to please be quiet so I could concentrate – the roads were icy – and he burst into hysterical tears and started apologizing for ‘wrecking Christmas’. No little kid can be good 100% of the time, but adding that pressure to their little minds and hearts is really too much for them to handle, I think.

5. Lower your expectations. This is a hard one for me. I have a pretty short list of festive activities I like to do, and the list doesn’t vary much from year to year. I really do work hard to make sure everything on it happens. I know that various family members would be very disappointed if I missed their favourite thing. And yet – gratitude sometimes is in short supply, because really little kids aren’t good at it yet. Grit your teeth, use it as a moment to teach them about saying “please” and “thank you”, and trust me that they’ll get better at this as they get older.

6. Take time for YOU. It’s exhausting being Santa’s elf. It is physically, emotionally, and financially depleting. Yes, we do it because we love it, but we love our kids too and they are also a sucking black void of need, most of the time. SO. Make sure that you practice self-care during this month. For me, my restorative moments usually involve a solitary cup of tea and a sugar cookie (or two). I keep a bottle of Baileys on hand and have it at my elbow when I wrap gifts; always at night, under the tree, with a favourite Christmas movie on the TV for company. A rested parent is so much better for the kids than a stressed-out one; if you are feeling moments of genuine joy, your kids will pick up on that and everyone will be much happier.

You should also read Nicole’s excellent list of ways to keep stress out of the holidays, because it is a good reminder to slow down and actually find enjoyment in the season.

Oh, and finally – watch this until you can feel yourself smiling. Usually somewhere around “shut up, Wesley!”




  1. Great advice! I have a tough group this year anyway and the holidays are not helping matters! They keep asking “am I being naughty?” And reminding each other that Santa doesn’t come if you’re naughty (I’ll admit that makes my blood boil – not one of their parents would return their gifts and follow through on the threat) My school aged day care boy keeps asking if we are going to get an Elf on the Shelf. NO!

    • Yes, exactly. The source of the Santa-terror in this group is Louis – I think in his case the source is his lovely but old-fashioned Scottish grandmother. Louis being Louis, he doesn’t ever worry about his OWN behaviour, but he’s quick to threaten the other children with it. Pixie especially was getting very upset, so finally I sat them all down and explained that ordinary three year old naughtiness wasn’t enough to keep Santa away. Then I took Louis aside and told him to knock it off, because scaring your friends is not nice.

      • I’ve done the same. Explained that Santa is too coming, and there will too be gifts, and that they can stop worrying about it (Poppy) and threatening people with it (Daniel). Eesh.

  2. Oh, you have made my Christmas. Firstly for the very sage advice to lower my expectations – my little ones already have the intense excitement of grandparents visiting us – grandparents who live on the other side of the globe and we see once a year, so it’s pretty full on. Everybody’s loving it, but my goodness the behaviour standards slip. Secondly, for: “they are also a sucking black void of need, most of the time” which sums it up so well. But thirdly, and most definitely for that clip. Which is awesome. Happy Christmas to you and all the family.

    • Oh, the grandparent visit would ratchet the dial up to eleven, I’ll bet. Whew. Happiest of Christmases to you and yours.

  3. Very good advice! Especially the part where you don’t HAVE to go everywhere you’re invited! It’s a good time to slow down.

  4. Yay for you and Nicole (I assume my “don’t freak out if you mistakenly mail a box to yourself instead of your brother-in-law and his lovely wife and children in Edmonton, you’re not a total failure and your family will not stop loving you” is implied). That’s a really good point about Santa – well, they’re all really good points. I was feeling a little grinchy a couple of weeks ago, then I gave myself a talking-to and Eve said I don’t ask her to help enough, which is true, and I’ve been feeling much better since. Although it would be even better if you and Nicole would come over for the team baking. Bring the Baileys!

  5. Great post! Definitely need to follow some of these a little more 😉 love the tips!

  6. Well, I’m proud of myself for not falling into the “be good for santa” trap, but the rest of it made me feel awful for not having the abovementioned problems!

    Our house has been depressingly the same. It makes me sad, but there’s only so much joy I can force on a house with a spouse who oozes misery and a son who doesn’t really get Christmas yet. I have always wanted to turn the house into a winter wonderland, and this year I told PH “I want to dress the house up to the gills this year”. I even took Owl out shopping for Christmas decorations in November, so we’d be all ready to go. So far, the only sign of christmas is the lights on our front window, and a Charlie Brown Tree on the table. No lights in the living room or bedroom, which I have ALWAYS done every year since I was a teenager. No Christmas tree. No Christmas music playing in the evenings.

    No Christmas.

    On the bright side, I can tell myself that I’ve been following your advice!

  7. I always thought the Christmas anticipation/anxiety would lessen as my kids got older, but last year Oldest got dialed up to 11 between his friends at school and the holidays. Last Christmas Eve for the first time in his life he could not get to sleep. He was still awake and dialed up and exhausted all at the same time at midnight. Husband and I had tried to go to bed hours earlier and ended up having to play Santa at 5 am because Oldest was up so late. Part of me can’t wait until he either stops believing in Santa or finally admits he no longer believes in Santa because I don’t think I can handle another midnight anticipation freak out. Sigh.

  8. […] said in my last post that December is hard on kids. It is especially hard on sensitive, anxious children like Louis, who need 100% predictability in […]

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