The holidays are a great time of year for many, but for some, including military families, the holidays are a time of great stress and sadness. Some families have family members who are unable to be with them during the holidays, and some cannot go home for the holidays. All of these circumstances end up becoming more stressful when you have kids in the mix.

The best way to ensure everyone starts the holidays off on the right foot is by managing the expectations your kids have about how the holiday season, especially when things may look a little different. Whatever your holiday season looks like, there are ways to help your child adjust to any differences this year.

Talk to your children. Whether they’re as young as one or nearly 18, it’s important to communicate what to expect this year. While telling them what’s going to be different, make sure to incorporate the good things that are going to happen throughout the holiday season. Maybe your service member won’t be home for the holidays, but they will video chat and you’ll celebrate with friends. Always look positively at the situation.

Manage the tantrums and big feelings. Kids of all ages can have big feelings that they either can’t or don’t want to express to you. This can be especially true for toddlers. Find ways to divert the negative attention. Make a joke you know they enjoy or say something that will make them laugh. If your child is younger, help them name their emotion so that they can recognize it the next time they’re feeling that way. If your child is older, give them the space to express their feelings in a safe environment. Whatever the method you choose, be patient with your child and yourself.

Being present is important. When you’re with your family for the holidays, put the phones and tablets away and spend quality time together. We all get busy and caught up in the everyday tasks, but the holidays are a time to come together. Watch a family movie, play games, decorate for the holidays together, or make dinner everyone can enjoy. All of these can bring you closer as a family regardless of what this year’s holiday season looks like.

Teach your kids gratitude. Using the word “grateful” can go a long way in helping your kids understand the meaning of the word and how you use it in everyday life. Share what you appreciate about your kids, and have them share something they appreciate about you. Show your appreciation to others in how you interact with neighbors, friends, and strangers. Talk about what they were grateful for that day and help show them that there’s always something to be grateful for, even if they had a bad day. The more they show gratitude each day, the easier it may be to get through the holiday season.

For more information on how to help your child during the holidays, visit your local Child and Youth Programs Office. Happy Holidays!

Holiday Survival Kit