I always saw MUCH wisdom in preschool teachers, and this one shares some great tips on how to show up differently this holiday season. Many thanks to Bridget Uzzelle, a full-time preschool teacher and head educator at the Sandbox, an innovation preschool in Bozeman, Montana, that is operated by the home-based child care startup MyVillage..

5 Ways to Show Up Differently with Your Family This Holiday Season

When embracing the magical mess that is the holiday season, how can you support your young children and also keep your sanity?

 As a full-time preschool teacher, I spend a lot of time with infants and toddlers. While my own children are now 4, 9, and 12, I’ve learned along the way that the secret to a happier holiday season is to lower the expectations. The more realistic you can be, the better. Especially for the majority of American households where both parents work full time, it’s important to give yourself—and your family—a break.

Here are five tips to make your holiday season a bit brighter this year, even if that means you opt not to decorate the house.

  1. Limit social media. We’re all guilty of the mindless scroll. While a 2018 study found that 84% of new mothers considered their social media friends to be a form of social connection, another study found social media comparisons to other families is linked to more co-parenting conflicts and higher levels of maternal depression. While Facebook or Instagram can be a source of community and comfort for new moms in particular, it can also lead to a deficit mentality. If you compare yourself to others constantly, you’ll always come up short.
  2. Pick one tradition, and really enjoy it. Maybe you bake a family cookie recipe or watch a favorite holiday movie. Don’t feel like you need to do everything, especially if you are feeling pressured. Pick one thing everyone enjoys, and commit to truly be present during the event.
  3. Articulate your gifting philosophy, and then stand by it. Especially if you are traveling to multiple households or managing extended family relationships where people have different values around gifting of presents, be sure to articulate your family’s values and plans. Will there be a limit of one present per child? Could the adult members of the family draw names and buy for just one person instead of buying gifts for everyone? You can’t control what others do, but you can stay grounded in what your immediate family wants to do.
  4. Practice gratitude. I’m a stickler about expressing a genuine  “thank-you,” even for my 4-year-old. The holidays are naturally magical for children, and they provide the opportunity to teach them about the larger meaning behind the celebration. If my children complain about writing thank-you notes, I suggest that we can always give the gifts to someone else who wants to give thanks, no exceptions. These notes don’t have to be beautifully written with perfect spelling. I encourage inventive spelling for all ages and even a picture of the gift with a smile.  I’m also blunt with my kids about why we are visiting say, an aunt who lives alone and may not have a very “fun” house. The holidays are about being there for people who need you and giving back to your family and community. We show up, give thanks, and practice gratitude.
  5. Offer choices. Small children especially are at the mercy of the plans and activities of the adults around them. The more we can offer even the youngest members of the household choices and grant them a sense of agency, the better adults they will grow into. In my home, we do this through seasonal goal setting. Each child picks three things they really want to do over the next three months. The oldest one scribes a grid with columns for each family member. Their priorities might be going out to a one-on-one dinner with Daddy, or doing the hay maze with the whole family. Once each child lists three, the whole family rates each activity on a scale of 1-10, and the top three are what we prioritize that season. It’s empowering to kids to let them articulate what is really important to them this year, and helps them to truly enjoy a smaller number of special things.

The most important thing during the holidays is spending quality time together, even if you aren’t feeling (or hashtagging) #Festive. By keeping your expectations aligned with what’s possible and desirable for you and your family, you’ll help ensure more positive holiday memories are made this year. Through a laser-strong focus on “what is of value for me and my family” we can all arrive at our more realistic goals during this festive, chaotic, and intense time of the year.

About the Author: Bridget Uzzelle is the head educator at the Sandbox, an innovation preschool in Bozeman, Montana, that is operated by the home-based child care startup MyVillage.

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