Scared members of family sits on floor together. They watch straight. Young man holds hand on girl's shoulder. Woman leans to daughter. They are frustrated.

When the holidays are mentioned, what is the very first thing that comes to mind? For many it’s time with family, a certain meal, and thoughts on how to make the holidays “especially special” for our children, no matter if they’re young or grown. Yet, we as parents often stress about making sure our children get the latest and greatest items on their list. Even the lists we see on TV or the internet, like the “Top 10 Toys of 2019,” suggest the latest and greatest, most expensive items are a must. The holidays are becoming more and more stressful, fast-paced and expensive.

Let’s pause and reflect for a minute on what matters most. Is it the latest and greatest toy we opened years ago that we remember for years to come? Or is it the traditions, the experiences we create for our children; the joy that connection brings us as their caregivers? What do you work to re-create for your children from your childhood … what remains special to you even now?

From my experience, it’s the traditions and the genuine connection between a child and an adult that matter most.

Have you ever attempted to change an annual tradition to another one, exchanged a ham for pizza? Attempted to buy cookies rather than make homemade cookies? When we make these shifts, although small, thinking it won’t make a difference, we most definitely hear about it. Often we hear “that’s good, but not as good as (fill in the blank).”

What if all of our energy this holiday season went towards making experiences and true connection, placing technology and to-dos aside? Why not focus on the true joys and bringing to life what we remember as special to our children?

Take some walks, sing some songs, and enjoy this moment with one-another.

Here are some quick tips to shift from a “fast-track” holiday to an “intentional” holiday:

Prioritize: What matters the most to your family? Is it having the most options on the table or is it creating a simpler meal, with favorite items in mind? Not cooking all day means more time to enjoy the meal together! Focus on the traditions that matter most to your family, and omit those obligations that don’t bring joy and are really not important to you. Create new traditions and routines with input from the littlest ones in the family.

Perfection vs. Meaning: We could stress about having all things “just right” for the holidays or we could focus on the experiences rather than the product. It’s more about togetherness while making a cookie than making 10 different types of cookies, including your kiddos in frosting and decorating (finger and spoon licking included). When decorating, don’t stress about having all of your decorations up, focus on those that bring memories to mind, such as hand-made pictures and ornaments. Art created by little hands and displayed brings smiles and pride from those who made it.

Remain grateful: The time we have surrounded by family and friends is so precious. Focus on gratefulness and take time to enjoy the moment. Share the joy and gratitude with others around you. Have your children create a list of what they are grateful for.

Simplify gifts, focus on experiences: Reducing the number of gifts can be a good start. Communicate with your family that we are focusing more on fun and time together and consider doing a fun gift exchange rather than buying a large number of gifts. Cards, board games, and a movie night in PJs are great traditions that can take the place of gift-giving. When buying gifts, keeping in mind the experience it will bring for years to come and the meaning the gift will bring. A helpful saying to keep in mind when shopping for gifts is “something they want, something they need, something they can do or read.”

Make the time to enjoy as adults! Planning is important, prioritizing what matters most, however, to-do lists can fill all of our hours preventing us from spending time where it matters most … with our kids, making memories.

Happy Holidays!


Sara Hayes is the Director of Education & Disabilities at UMCHS, a partner with the Blue Mountain Early Learning Hub, which works to bridge early childhood resources and prepare children for kindergarten. For more information visit www.bluemountainearlylearninghub.org.

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