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Making Christmas happen: 6 tips to get your family through the 2020 holiday season


Christmas is upon us, but with COVID-19, the most wonderful time of the year is lacking some of its usual magic.

Every American family has been touched by the pandemic this year. With school moving online and the increasing number of parents working from home, the amount of time many families with young kids are spending together has significantly increased. Kids miss their friends and being “cooped up” as a family for months on end can be a significant stressor for children and parents alike.

Adding to that stress, most extended families will not celebrate the holidays together this year. Many families are also coping with unexpected financial hardship and, worst of all, with grief.

Christmas this year is unlike any that we’ve ever experienced, and it’s impossible not to yearn for easier, kinder times.

Here are six tips on how to help make the best of Christmas and the holiday season this year.

Tip 1. Change your expectations.

As a parent, there is always a crushing amount of expectation to “produce” an idealistic Christmas for your children.

We are in survival mode here. It’s not your job to save 2020 by pulling a “Christmas Carol” like miracle out of the bag.

Give yourself some grace; this has been a tremendously challenging year to be a parent. You are likely the only mother/father this family will have, and cliched as the old adage goes, you most certainly cannot pour from an empty cup.

This will likely not be the best Christmas of your family’s life. But you are doing just fine.

Tip 2. Find new ways to spread Christmas cheer.

Without the usual lead-up to Christmas, it’s challenging to feel in the festive mood. How can you inspire the holiday spirit in your house?

If you have the energy, plan an “opening ceremony” of sorts that signals “this is a start to our family’s celebration.” Everyone could wear an ugly Christmas sweater or get to open one Christmas present early, or you could all watch that favorite holiday movie together. Have everyone whose old enough share their favorite Christmas memory and see if you can incorporate those memories into your holiday calendar.

As long as your celebrations do not put anyone else at risk, you are allowed to enjoy the holiday season. Fostering a sense of connection within your family by creating new holiday rituals may allow your family to celebrate Christmas despite all of this year’s chaos.

Tip 3. Give teens some space.

If you have older school-aged children (9 years of age and above) or teenagers, allow for some free time between holiday activities.

The holiday season may be about coming together as a family, and there may be some older children who happily hang out with their parents all day. But many, particularly teenagers, will not, and it is futile to make them try.

Older children are trying to establish an independent identity, which is an essential part of a young person’s psychological development. While necessary during the pandemic, it’s not typical for a teen’s social development to be always at home with their parents and separated from their peer group. This near-constant contact between parent and adolescent could generate serious friction.

Communicate clearly and hold your teen accountable for when they are expected to be awake, present and engaged in holiday activities and chores. Otherwise, let them pursue TikTok or teenager existentialism … for both of your sakes.

Tip 4. Consider a COVID-19 Christmas news blackout.

We all know this has been a scary time for adults and for young children, who don’t have the reasoning capabilities or emotional maturity to process the devastation caused by COVID-19. Children need to be aware of some information for safety reasons, but it’s crucial not to overload a young child with traumatic news that they cannot process.

Consider implementing a COVID-19 related media ban over Christmas and beyond for several hours a day, as well as restricting conversations surrounding the pandemic to necessary communications when young children are within earshot.

Teenagers may seem to cope with following all of the latest developments of the pandemic. They could, however, be internalizing their panic and need help. Talk to your teen about how they are processing all of the traumatizing things they see in the news.

You may notice that a younger child may seem more anxious, more irritable, develop separation anxiety, sleeps more or has lost their appetite. As children cannot tell us when they are depressed, these are some of the physical signs you can look out to alert there is a problem. If you have any concerns, you should talk to your doctor immediately.

Tip 5. Giving thanks.

This year has taught us how many everyday luxuries we took for granted before the pandemic. You could have your family make a list of what they were grateful for before the pandemic and what new, unexpected things they have been thankful for this year.

For families exchanging Christmas presents this year, consider having your child pick a toy or clothing article to donate for every new gift they receive.

Tip 6. Cancel your plans.

It may go without saying, but do not feel obligated to invite anyone to your home. That applies to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and Santa himself if you so choose.

You can always supplement an in-person meetup with a video call and share a festive activity together like reading a storybook, baking cookies or watching a favorite holiday show remotely. With COVID-19 cases spiking across America, it truly is never too late to cancel a social plan.

Wishing you and yours a safe and Happy holiday season!

This article was originally published by Dr. Aine Cooke, 


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