The holiday season is a time to gather friends, family, and loved ones to create new traditions and memories. However, preparing for the holidays can leave you feeling more frazzled than festive. Gift-shopping, cooking, decorating, school events, neighborhood parties… your to-do list can quickly become longer than your kid’s wishlist. Take a deep breath and know that you’re not alone in your holiday stress.
Whatever we celebrate, the holidays are an ideal time for connecting with each other to brighten up those dark winter days with celebrations of love, peace, and joy.
If you want to make sure you and your kids remember the deeper meaning of the holidays, you’re not alone. So how do you navigate these conversations without feeling like the Grinch at the party? Keep reading—we’ve put together this guide to help you find ways to encourage your child to embrace generosity, love, and compassion this holiday season—while enjoying the festivities.
How Do You Respond to Kids Focused on Gifts?
Each family, community, and culture have ideas about what their holidays mean to them. Oftentimes, these ideals are built around shared values like generosity, connection, faith, and gratitude. Celebrations might include food, gatherings, and, of course, presents. When kids are learning about holidays for the first time, it's easy for them to focus on the "gifts" first. It can be a little harder to help them understand the meaning and values underneath the concrete traditions.
Teaching children about gratitude and generosity is an admirable goal, but it can be especially difficult to achieve around the holidays. In the whirlwind of new toys, clothes, video games, and tech, the holiday season can feel centered around finding the perfect present.
It’s normal for children to get excited about new toys and gifts. In fact, it can be a useful opportunity to support their emotional learning.
Let’s say your child tells you that they’re hoping to get a new playset this year. Even if they have a lot of similar toys, try validating their excitement.
You can say something like, “Wow! You really love building things. Tell me what makes them so much fun for you.” This way, you help your child understand their own feelings and interests while you acknowledge their strengths. Maybe you’ll discover that your child loves:
- Organizing colors, patterns, and shapes
- Feeling challenged and welcomes new projects
- Sharing toys with siblings or friends
- Creating stories and engaging imaginative play
How to Have Meaningful Family Fun During the Holidays
The best way to make the holidays meaningful is to show your child that the real joy comes from connecting with loved ones. How do you do that? By making time for plenty of special family activities.
Explore your family’s values when coming up with activities:
- Strengthen connections with family members, friends, and your community
- Center the focus around generosity, care, and giving
- Let you slow down and de-stress—perhaps in screen-freeways
Let’s dive into four festive ways you can carve out some special family time this holiday season
#1 Take Time to Connect Instead of Focusing on Gifts
It’s hard to deny that a big part of the holidays has become gift-giving and receiving—for kids especially, the receiving part can easily outshine the giving. But the root of exchanging gifts with our friends and family is sweet: We do it to show that we love and value each other.
You can help your kids learn the deeper meaning of gift-giving by focusing on the connections rather than the objects. As a family, have a talk about how to change your gifting habits this season. You might:
- Make an agreement to spend a little less money on presents and put that money toward a family experience or a donation to a local charity instead.
- Brainstorm a list of activities that are within your budget. You might go to a local amusement park, book a weekend rafting adventure, or visit a local animal sanctuary.
- Reach out to extended family and suggest a special outing or visit instead of exchanging presents.
#2 Start or Maintain a Meaningful Family Tradition
Whether it’s baking cookies together or caroling in your neighborhood, a tradition that your family looks forward to every year is a simple way to add more meaning to your holiday. Family traditions help kids feel more secure and connected. They also create lasting memories that they can hold onto lifelong, and even pass on to their own families.
Memorable traditions don’t have to be complicated or costly. Here are a few easy traditions you can try that your child can look forward to every year:
- Make a special meal or dish – It could be those luscious cinnamon rolls you only have during the holidays, or a dish with roots in your family like Umma’s deep-fried dumplings. Whatever the meal might be, traditional foods are a wonderful way to get the whole family to slow down and enjoy each other’s company.
- Gift exchange for your neighbors – Have your child decorate a paper bag with stickers, crayons, or wrapping paper. Next, gather a few small goodies—it can be as simple as a few candy canes, a small ornament, and hot chocolate packets. Then, deliver the gift to a friendly neighbor and encourage them to pass on the kindness.
- Share good cheer with local wildlife – Gather pine cones or dried corn cobs, string, peanut butter, and birdseed. Coat the corn cobs or pine cones with peanut butter, then roll in birdseed. Attach a string and hang the treats from your neighborhood trees as a special goodie for the birds and squirrels.
- Create a festive scavenger hunt activity – Drum up excitement with Yeti on a Shelf. Children can look for Yeti in different spots every morning and complete the accompanied mission. It’s a great opportunity to gather the family and find new activities to do together.
#3 Give Back to the Community
Taking time to give back during the holidays is one of the most valuable traditions you can build with your child. It’s better to give than to receive isn’t just a saying—the act of giving has been shown to be good for physical and mental health, too.1
This holiday, try a volunteer activity with your child:
- Participate in a food drive
- Play with cats and dogs at the animal shelter
- Take a walk around your neighborhood and pick up trash
- Make holiday cards for residents at a local long-term care facility
- Collect toys they don’t use anymore and donate them to a toy library, daycare, or children’s hospital
#4 Make Something Together by Hand
Hands-on activities are one of the best ways to create lasting memories with your child. And what better time of year to sit down and get creative than the holidays?
You and your child can make ornaments to treasure for years to come, or create special homemade gifts for friends. The options are only limited by your imagination, but here are a few ideas to get you inspired.
Toddlers and preschoolers can:
- Make a paper chain with colorful construction paper and glue sticks
- Craft tissue paper flowers with pipe cleaner stems
- Make marshmallow snowmen with pretzel stick arms, chocolate chip eyes, and candy buttons
- Use white fingerpaint and blue construction paper to make handprint snowflake pictures
- Glue white and yellow paper “flames” to the end of colored popsicle sticks to make candles for a Hanukkah menorah, Kwanzaa kinara, or Christmas candle display
School-age kids can:
- String popcorn and cranberries for a traditional garland
- Fold origami stars from shiny silver and gold paper
- Create candy cane reindeer with pipe cleaners, pom poms, and googly eyes
- Learn a basic crochet stitch together and crochet a scarf for a relative or friend
- Create bookmarks for each family member using scrapbooking supplies like decorative paper, ribbons, and stickers
Teaching Children About Different Holidays
When December rolls around, it can feel like the holiday season has taken over the globe. It’s on TV, in the stores, and all over the houses on your street. Whatever your family celebrates, take some time to teach your child about different celebrations taking place all over the world—and in their very own neighborhood.
Read Books About Holidays Around the World
Take a field trip to the library and check out books on holidays in different places. Your librarian will show you non-fiction books and storybooks about how people celebrate. Many libraries even offer special storytimes about different holidays.
As you share the books, talk about the similarities and differences your child notices between celebrations around the world.
Attend a Local Festival, Museum, or Cultural Event
Depending on where you live and the different cultures present in your area, you may be able to attend public celebrations for some of these winter holidays. A few important days that people may celebrate include:
- Dia de los Muertos – Beginning of November
- Diwali – End of October/Early November
- Hanukkah – End of November or End of December
- Christmas – End of December
Local cultural centers or museums are also excellent resources for engaging your child’s interest in learning about other cultures and traditions.
A respectful way to help your child experience a part of another culture’s traditions is by cooking a special meal or dish and learning about its history.
Some simple, kid-friendly dishes you might try:
- Tangyuan rice balls for Dongzhi, the Chinese winter solstice holiday2
- Latkes (potato pancakes) for Hanukkah
- Tamales for Las Posadas, part of traditional Mexican Christmas festivities3
Build New Traditions With Slumberkins
There’s no need to buy out the decoration aisle, cook the ideal holiday dinner, or make the whole house picture-perfect in order to make the season special for your child. In fact, the more you stress about plans and events, the less space and energy you might end up with to dedicate to family time.
Looking for ways to build meaningful new traditions in your family? Slumberkins can help.
Make our Feelings Adventure board game part of family game night, use a Kinspiration kit to kick off exciting imaginative play, or simply share a storybook about your child’s favorite Kin. Whatever your family traditions may be, Slumberkins has everything you need to make emotional learning a special part of your holiday cheer.
- "The science of generosity." Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. May 2018. https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Generosity-FINAL.pdf
- Radez, Wes. "Donzhi festival." Chinese American Family. Updated 12 March, 2023. https://www.chineseamericanfamily.com/dongzhi-festival/
- Conte, Luz. "The traditional food of Mexican Posadas: The best 5 dishes." Cocina. https://wearecocina.com/lifestyle/the-traditional-food-of-mexican-posadas/