Two Under Two: 9 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Holidays

We have a one-month old baby and an 18 month old. Life is so busy as it is, I’m concerned about how we’ll manage. How can we survive and even enjoy the holidays this year with two under two?

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There are many expectations parents face during holidays. Some expectations come from family and friends and some are those we place on ourselves. If we can use the holidays and those days leading up to them for reflection about what we really value, what we want our children to learn to value and what we want our children to experience and to remember, we can create truly meaningful times for our children and our families.

Some of the challenges of the holidays with young children include balancing time with different parts of the family who are eager to spend time with you, managing travel and holiday preparations when life is already a full-time job, bringing together different family traditions and having realistic expectations of yourself, your children and your family. Here are some things to consider as you prepare for upcoming holidays.

1. Think about what is most important to you. Spend some time thinking about what you really want your children to experience during the holidays. What kinds of traditions do you want to carry on or build that your children will learn to cherish, look forward to and remember. Talk to your partner, or any other significant family members, about your priorities and expectations as you create your vision for the holidays.

2. Do less and enjoy it more. Think about a few things that would make your holidays the most significant. Remember love, connectedness, communication and gratefulness, the gifts that will last our children a lifetime.

3. Focus on low-key, kid-friendly events. Think about the ages of your children. For babies and toddlers, activities need to be appropriate to their needs. Toddlers are fascinated with decorations. They want to taste, move, carry and throw them. You can decorate the lower branches of your well-stabilized (some people wire it to the ceiling) tree with safe, durable decorations that your toddler will love to place, replace and transport You could put a basket nearby for collecting the "harvested" ones. Careful, well-supervised candle blowing out is a fun toddler activity (watch for the wayward strands of hair.) Driving or walking to see lights can be an enjoyable outing for a toddler. Listening to music in informal events (where you can leave when your toddler gets too wiggly) and playing music with your own (store-bought or home-made) instruments are both fun. Telling stories or reading books that are significant to your family’s beliefs can be a wonderful tradition for young children. Toddlers enjoy books with pictures and will be interested in listening to all or part of the words.

4. Minimize travel. Traveling with babies and toddlers is challenging and unpredictable. If you can invite people to come see you and keep your traveling to short trips, you can avoid some holiday stress.

5. Have realistic expectations. Many of us plan for the holidays as if we had six weeks of uninterrupted time to accomplish all of our projects. While it can be fun to think of all the possible things you can do, try to keep your plans simple. The younger your kids are, the simpler your plans should be. Children would much rather have relaxed, grateful, responsive parents than heaps of presents, decorations or fancy food. Also, try to keep in mind the capacities of your children. Simple things like dressing up, having to sit still and be quiet, having to socialize with 20 strangers who want a kiss, visiting stores with mountains of toys you can’t take home, missing a nap, eating sweets, staying up past your bedtime and having a big guy in a red suit try to get you to sit on his lap can be a stretch for the very young child.

6. "Introduce" your kids to relatives ahead of time. Another aspect of the holidays for many families is visiting people you don’t see very often. This can be both joyous and challenging. Young children won’t experience the same sense of familiarity towards relatives as relatives feel towards them. There are some things you can do in advance of seeing relatives, as well as in the moment when your child is turning away screaming. If you can get pictures of relatives or tape recordings of their voices telling stories or singing songs, you can help your child get to know them before the visit. This can help toddlers and preschool-aged children warm up to relatives they see only periodically. In the moment when Aunt Irene is reaching vigorously for your toddler, you can talk to both of them. “Jane, this is Aunt Irene. When I was a little girl, she used to give me pony rides all around the house.” “Aunt Irene, it’s good to see you. Jane usually likes to get to know people by watching them a little before she is ready to play or give hugs.”

7. Help loved ones to select appropriate gifts. Gifts are an important part of many holiday celebrations. If relatives are receptive, you could give them some ideas of things you would like. Think about gifts where they can share something special about themselves with your children. You could ask them to send pictures of themselves, both now and when they were children. A simple, small photo album (with words about the people in the pictures) is a wonderful “first book.” One parent ask all of the grandparents to write a letter to her baby, either as a one-time gift or an annual gift. This kind of sharing can be very significant in families and help to build a sense of family history. You could ask people to share stories--favorite stories of their own; stories of their childhood, stories of your childhood. Some relatives would love to make a tape for children with their own singing, stories or some of their favorite music. If people want to buy gifts, you can send them catalogues of toys you like or you could ask them to go together with other family members for a bigger gift, like a climbing structure or a set of wooden blocks.

8. Buy less. The temptation is mighty to buy, buy and buy. This emphasis on buying more creates stress for families in terms of time, money and guilt. Ironically, it doesn’t make for happier children. Many times children are so overwhelmed with piles of gifts they can’t even play with them and all they can do is to cry for more. It is interesting to think about the responsibility involved in receiving presents. There is an expected timeline for opening, and an expected response and appreciation. This can be awkward and uncomfortable for young children. I remember an early holiday with my first son, where I had managed to keep my buying to four presents. I eagerly sat back as he started opening. After he opened the first one, he began to play with it. I had to stop myself from telling him to open his other presents, rather than to play with what he had already opened. When I relaxed to his pace, it turned out that his present opening lasted all day. Some solutions other than limiting the number of presents are to spread them out over time, so that they don’t all need to be opened in one sitting. Children can also open presents when the person gives it to them, rather than saving them all up for the “special day.”

9. Involve your little ones in giving. Including our children in the joy of giving can be invaluable for them. Young children may just witness you giving things to others. Some toddlers may be able to hand a candle or a loaf of bread to a friend. If the item is attractive to the toddler, you may need two so that they can hang on to one and give the other. (Remember that on some days, your toddler may need to hold on tight to both. Don’t fret, they will learn to share eventually.) Older children may want to draw pictures for friends or participate in baking, or collecting leaves for gifts.

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