Handling Holiday Excitement with Young Children

It’s that time of year — the big holiday season for many of us in America — and excitement runs high for young children. Keep in mind, I’m writing this during the COVID-19 pandemic, so the holidays should look a little different for us this year. I say “should” because the CDC and all of the nation’s top doctors, scientists, epidemiologists, and public health officials are literally begging people to stay home this year instead of celebrating with people outside of their households. So please, stay home! We usually host Thanksgiving dinner, but this year I uninvited everyone and we’ll be cooking a smaller meal for just the four of us.

That being said, some of these tips for handling holiday excitement with young children will still be applicable this year — because kids just can’t help being excited about the holidays — while others will be ones you’ll want to keep in your back pocket for next year.

Create a Visual Countdown Together

The passage of time is incredibly confusing for little ones, and when stores start putting out Christmas decorations in October, it’s easy to think Christmas is just around the corner when there’s actually still a long time to wait. Create a visual countdown that you can use as a family to track the days left before an exciting holiday or festivity. Our family favorite is a paper chain! We like to write each date down on thin strips of paper, then put them all together in order to form a chain. Each day, we take one link off (having the dates written on the links helps to make sure we don’t accidentally forget one day) and count how many are left until the big day! My girls usually do this for their favorite holidays like Christmas and Easter as well as birthdays or family vacations.

Space Out Holiday Traditions

Don’t plan on completing all of your holiday traditions on one day — that’s extremely tiring for all involved! Instead, spread out your traditions to cover the days or weeks before the big day to help spread out the excitement into manageable chunks. Sit down together to come up with a list of all of your traditions for a holiday or special occasion, then plan out together when you’d like to do each of them. If you’re doing a paper chain countdown, you can write each tradition on a different link! If not, you can write them on the family calendar so everyone can see when each tradition will happen.

Assign Tasks on the Day Of

When that special day arrives, involve your child in the preparation for guests to arrive! Ask them to make place cards for your guests, to set the table, or to help prepare the food before everyone arrives. Once your guests are there, let your child be the “waiter” for the day — she can take drink orders or find a place to keep everyone’s coats. If gifts are involved, assign your child the task of handing them out to everyone — this helps keep her from only being interested in her own gifts and makes her feel like an essential part of the day.

If you’re not hosting at your own home and instead will be guests at someone else’s, ask if they can save some small tasks for your child to help with. Setting the table and taking drink orders are things that your child can take part in no matter whose house it is, and it can give her a purposeful task in the midst of a very exciting day.

Lower Expectations for the Day After

There’s a natural let-down that happens for all of us after a big occasion, and that’s an important thing to remember when you have small children! Don’t make any big plans for the day after a special holiday. Instead, rest at home and expect to have some tired children who may not know how to handle their big feelings. Give everyone some grace and take it slow.

Stay home this year so that next year can be even better! And so that all of your loved ones are still here to celebrate with next year… Please, people!