Holiday Parties and Kids: Balancing Needs at Christmas Time

I remember it well. Carrying my newborn, holding hands with my toddler, we arrived at the family Christmas party just a few minutes late. I counted that as a win, given the fact that we were all dressed and no one was crying, not even my husband or me.

The Challenge of a Good Time

We were inundated by well-wishers, most eager to see our baby. They politely asked to hold him as my 18-month-old son looked on. Music began and played festively in the background. Dishes clinked. Lights blinked. Conversation rose.

We had been there 30 minutes when the tears began. While all these faces were familiar to us as adults, to my children they were strangers. As everyone came close and the noise level grew, my sweet boys both became overwhelmed. Their eyes darted about and their cries called to us. It was just too much.

My husband and I dreamed of celebrating the holidays with family, but this was becoming a nightmare. Excusing myself, I scooped up my boys and headed to the bedrooms upstairs. It was cooler here, quiet and calm. Setting them down in an unused room, I turned and closed the door. Tears ceased. Smiles returned. We sat in silence and settled down.

Make a Plan

The holidays can be a wonderful time of celebration and fun. But for children, our schedules and parties can quickly become times of over-stimulation and exhaustion. Maybe they are overwhelmed. Maybe they go into overdrive. Maybe the Sweets and Treats catch their stomachs off-guard. How can we help them through family gatherings, making the most of the season for ourselves and for them?

  1. Make a plan before leaving for a gathering. How long will you stay? What will the children do? What is our secret sign or gesture to call the other for help? Can we plan slipping our kids out for a break or nap? What will you bring to help your kids have fun?
  2. As a family, plan to attend parties as well-rested as possible. Review your calendar at the beginning of the week and be sure that you allow for downtime, too.
  3. Adjust your expectations regarding these gatherings. Young families cannot always stay until late. Don't be the last to leave and don't feel obligated to clean up someone else's party. Leave before your children are over-tired and create a positive experience for all.
  4. Think through ways to help over-stimulated children find a quiet place. Being understanding about the unusual environment sends a message to your children that you are caring for them.
  5. Set boundaries for your children about snacking and meals. Providing healthy treats in the midst of Christmas cookie options can keep your children feeling well while navigating holiday fun.
  6. Remember the reason for this Christmas season. Keeping our focus on the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth can help us to choose which events we will attend and which we will avoid. Over-scheduling our families does not bring them closer to understanding what Christmas is about. It is not your job to meet all expectations of in-laws and grandparents. Say no. Slow down. Focus on faith and family. It’s okay to let some things go.

Be Responsive to Needs

My husband talked to his family. We shared a meal together. We listened to Grandpa tell the Christmas story, and then we took our little ones home. Not everyone understood our early departure. But, as parents to two small children, we were the ones who needed to understand the children who had been given to us. We needed to respond to their needs while balancing family expectations.

And as my children have grown, we have stayed longer at parties, experienced less crying, and stopped searching for an empty room for escape. But my kids know still that we will respond to where they are and what they need, even in the midst of a celebration. This is not a lesson I can teach with words, but one that must be shown time and time again.

Focus on the Meaning of the Holidays

And when I step back and picture that first, holy night, I want to bring my children into the truth of a young family, close together with the Savior at the center. I want to let them be quiet enough to notice the stars and hear the angels proclaiming the birth of Christ, our Lord.

Galatians 4:4-5 says, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons."

God came to earth to claim us as his children. He has heard our needs and drawn us close. I want to teach my children that the parties are fun, but that hope is found in the reason our families gather together. It is hope that I cling to and hope they will need as they learn. May our holiday parties guide our children to know that are loved and seen and comforted in the midst of a raucous world.

About the author — Nadia Swearingen-Friesen

Nadia Swearingen-Friesen is a writer and national speaker with a passion for empowering parents to approach their families with great intentionality and grace.  Nadia and her husband, Mark, are the parents of four children and live in the Chicago area. Nadia also blogs at

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