Handling spoiled kids, setting boundaries, preventing burnout: Family coach offers advice on parenting during the holidays

Need to set boundaries with family members? Feel like your kids are acting spoiled? We've got answers. (Photo: Getty)
Need to set boundaries with family members? Feel like your kids are acting spoiled? We've got answers. (Photo: Getty)

This article was originally published on Nov. 18, 2021.

The holiday season is in full swing, and so are most parents' stress levels.

Whether they're busy making sure everyone on their holiday shopping list is accounted for or deciding which social obligations to agree to and which to decline, no one makes a list and checks it twice like moms and dads. (Sorry, Santa.)

On top of all the party scheduling, cookie baking and house decorating, there's also still the daily task of parenting: keeping small humans semi-well-behaved and in good spirits amid the hustle and bustle of holiday stress.

So Yahoo Life sat down with Catherine Pearlman, founder of The Family Coach and author of Ignore It: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction to talk about how parents can feel as peaceful as the inside of a snow globe when everything around them looks more like a box of shattered ornaments.

Here, Pearlman shares answers to some of parents' biggest holiday parenting questions, from how to handle a kid with a case of the "gimmes" to the best approach for getting Aunt Susan to back off when their kid isn't in the mood to have his cheeks pinched.

"At the holiday time, there's so much going on for families," Pearlman explains. "There's things at school, there's parties, there's plays. So that in and of itself raises the stress level."

To cope, Pearlman says it's important to go into the holiday season with a family game plan.

"It's really helpful so that you don't get derailed on things that aren't important to you," she explains. "Think about what you really want to stress for your kids and your family at this holiday time — if you have a plan, you're less likely to say yes to things that don't fit in that plan or spread yourself too thin."

How should parents talk to their kids about different holidays?

To stress to kids the importance of respecting how other cultures and religions celebrate during the holiday season, Pearlman suggests looking for books and movies that show other holidays being celebrated.

"Watch [and read] them together," Pearlman says. "Talk about them and see how they're different."

"There are so many different kinds of celebrations that happen in different families, so actively look for things that are different from your family," she adds. "Those are the things to bring home. ... it's really good to actively seek out things that are different."

To put what you've learned into action, Pearlman suggests hosting a group dinner.

"Host an intercultural, interreligious potluck at your own house," she says. "Everybody brings something that's important to their family and then they talk about it. It's such a fun way to have a party."

How do you help kids set physical boundaries at holiday family gatherings?

When it comes to helping kids express which forms of physical contact they're comfortable with, Pearlman says parents are vital.

"It really starts with the parent accepting that their child does not have to hug and kiss Uncle Joe or Grandpa and that it's not a sign of disrespect, but it's about respecting our own physical boundaries," says Pearlman, adding that this year, kids still have the pandemic as an extra excuse to avoid physical touches they're uncomfortable with.

"You still have to greet people," she adds, "so parents may teach [their kids] how to shake hands. They might do a fist bump or they might have a dialogue — and parents can role play this before the holidays."

The holidays can be stressful for parents. (Photo: Getty)
The holidays can be stressful for parents. (Photo: Getty)

My kid is acting spoiled at the holidays. Help! What can I do?

To take some of the pressure off of receiving gifts during the holidays, Pearlman suggests parents dial back the emphasis on making lists for Santa and requesting presents.

"[Making lists for Santa] creates an 'I want. I want. I want.' scenario for kids," she says. "And, stop buying your kids gifts every time they go to Target or a little something at Starbucks — then they become more grateful for what they get at the holiday time."

Pearlman also recommends gifting experiences over material possessions.

"It's something the family is doing together rather than a toy that they're going to play with (or not play with) and toss to the side," she explains.

When parents do see the "gimmes" taking hold in their homes, Pearlman suggests getting kids involved in giving back to their communities: Have kids organize a gift drive or serve meals at a shelter as a way of staying connected to the ways in which they already have a great deal.

"There are a lot of things parents can do with their kids as volunteer time," Pearlman says, "and then when kids really see there are very needy kids, even in their community, I think it sometimes can change the dynamic with what they're getting in their own household."

At the end of the day, Pearlman says the best way to survive parenting during the holidays is to find what works for your family and stick to it.

"Talk about the holidays [as a family]," she says. "Talk about what you're going to do, how to keep it fun and light and how to focus on your values."

"Set the tone for everyone in your family," Pearlman continues. "If you see your neighbor is very chill and really focused on just a couple of things and you're running around like a chicken without your head on asking, 'Why am I doing this?' You'll wish you'd planned to alleviate everybody's stress by prioritizing and delegating and thinking a little bit more about what's important at the holiday."

– Video produced by Stacy Jackman.

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