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Illustration courtesy Lauren Rebbeck

How to Maintain Family Rules During the Holidays

My kids spend a lot of time questioning our family rules and pushing the limits during the holiday season. How can I address this? Our expert weighs in.

The Problem:

Each year we get together with family at the holidays, and my kids’ cousins have a totally different set of rules for everything from bedtimes to tech usage at the table. My kids spend a lot of time questioning our family rules and pushing the limits. I don’t think our rules are unreasonable or strict, but I don’t hear the end of it and it adds stress to an otherwise happy time. How can we address this?

The Expert:

Eli Harwood, licensed professional counselor at PASS Center

The Solution:

This is something almost every parent experiences during the holiday bustle—a loss of structure and therefore, a loss of a huge portion of our sanity. When we live our day-to-day lives in our own homes, everyone understands the rules for bedtime and the established limits on sweets and screen time. When we spend time with extended family during the holidays, we have an entirely new system to navigate and usually haven’t taken the time to make the necessary adjustments. We end up parenting on the fly, which often looks like giving in or hunkering down for battle.

This year, be proactive instead. Take these steps to hold on to some structure and sanity while letting the season be special and fun:

  1. Pick your battles. If your expectation is for every household rule to stay in place, you likely need to adjust your own expectations. In a battle for structure against a season filled with excitement and intrigue for children, you will ultimately lose. Allow a little room for loosening the norm without going willy-nilly.
  2. Set clear expectations for your children. Just as you have set daily expectations in your home, you can come up with slightly-adjusted temporary ones for the holidays. Budge the bedtime a bit from normal, but have a limit. If you are staying for four nights, pick two nights where the kids get to stay up as late as their cousins, and two where regular bedtime will be respected. Be clear that the shift is a holiday-only special.
  3. Have a pre-holiday talk with your children to prepare. Lay out the expectations and talk ahead of time about the areas that cause conflict and problematic dynamics. Involve the kids in creating solutions for how to respect the holiday structure without arguing (kids hate conflict as much as you do).
  4. Call other family members ahead of time and ask for their support. Oftentimes the people we love don’t know what we need. Share with them the things that matter most in the holiday hubbub. Ask them for their support in reinforcing limits with the group. Other parents might feel relieved that you’ve already thought through the possible disasters and may want to utilize your plan for their children too.

Most importantly, remember that this is temporary. Kids will understand that the holiday season isn’t forever, and whatever structure gets lost for that brief time can be reset at home after the holidays.

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