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Realistic Holiday Expectations for Kids

When it comes to the never-ending activity surrounding Christmas, having realistic holiday expectations for kids probably doesn’t make your to-do list. It took many, MANY…


When it comes to the never-ending activity surrounding Christmas, having realistic holiday expectations for kids probably doesn’t make your to-do list. It took many, MANY years for it to be a priority for me, that’s for sure. I’ve found, however, that a small shift in mindset can really the sweeten the season and make it enjoyable for all.

The importance of realistic holiday expectations for kids

As I’ve matured as a mother, wife, and human being throughout the years, I’ve learned how important it is to have realistic expectations of people and situations. I’ve been one to set the bar real real high, and subsequently face a mountain of disappointment when my reality isn’t as fantastic as what I imagined it would be.

I’ve found that setting realistic expectations makes life more liveable and more enjoyable. During the holidays, when our schedules, families, and pocketbooks are a bit more burdened, this is a hugely helpful skill to have.

A Peak into Christmas Past

Several years ago, when my oldest two were just six- and one-year-old, I attempted to take some Christmas pictures. I had a vision. A Pinterest-perfect vision. They’d sit sweetly in front of a glowing tree and I’d photograph their awe and wonder at the majestical sight. It was going to be P E R F E C T.

Except they were squirrely and uninterested in making my vision a reality. They were being, in a word, kids. I was frustrated. I took dozens of pictures, trying for the one that portrayed them as smiling and happy and holly jolly. Because that’s what we were right?! A smiling and happy and holly jolly FAMILY.

Looking back, I ended up with some really amazing shots. Absolute keepers. But my expectations of their behavior – which was entirely age-appropriate – exceeded their patience and attention span.

A standard of Pinterest perfection

I’ll start this paragraph by raising my hand. I’ve tried to attain a Pinterest-worthy life. To portray a [faux] charmed life. Guys and gals. Not only is it a complete lie, it’s completely exhausting and unhealthy. Pinterest images and those curated for social media are just that: curated.

Many are staged on purpose. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing and likely something we’ve all done at some point to get a particular shot. But if you are inclined to measure yourself up against others, it’s hard to not believe that highlight reels are actually real life. If these types of images or posts tell you the lie that you, your children, or your life are somehow less than, unfollow the account, mute the stories, hide the posts, delete the app – do whatever you need to do to avoid that pitfall.

When we work toward perfection, we have our sweet children being measured up to an ideal they’ll never achieve. They can’t remotely grasp the picturesque moment we’re trying to fabricate…


Been there, done that. Failed. Failed so hard.

How to expect more by expecting less

And what exactly do I mean by that? You can expect a more enjoyable, fulfilling holiday season by expecting less perfection from your children. Heres how:

You can expect a more enjoyable, fulfilling holiday season by expecting less perfection from your children

Expect them to act their ages.

They’re just little ones. Imperfect tiny humans who deserve the grace and wisdom of a parent who understands that they will likely get syrup on their festive sweater at Breakfast with Santa. That they’ll drop their teacher’s perfectly wrapped gift in the wet lawn as they walk to the bus. That they’ll get antsy at their sibling’s chorus concert and probably call someone a POOP HEAD at Aunt Shirley’s annual holiday potluck. That they’ll tolerate a shopping trip just about as long as they’ll survive negative degree weather. That they’ll be entirely uncooperative during family pictures. Take a deep breath and keep your expectations in check.

Expect them to still need sleep.

If holiday events are cramming their schedules, adhering to their regular nap and bedtime schedule as much as possible should be a priority. Cranky kids are no fun to do anything with anyways.

Expect them to be hungry.

All the snacks, friend. Headed to a play? Snacks. Driving more than a half hour away? Snacks. Going to look at Christmas lights? Snacks. Waiting in line to see Santa? Snacks. Going out to eat? Still bring snacks. Just trust me on this one. I’ve been a parent for eleven-and-a-half years and have never once regretted bringing snacks. My only regret? Not bringing snacks.

Expect them to be overstimulated.

The holidays are overwhelming for us adults, so can you imagine how hard it must be to navigate the pomp and circumstance as a child? When there’s too much food, too much noise, too much interaction, too much together time, too much clutter, too much everything, the likelihood they’ll lose it at some point is pretty great. You can buffer this with PLENTY of downtime and keeping schedules streamlined.

Expect them to need boundaries.

This is definitely situation-dependent, and as a parent it’s our job to help them establish these. It could look like recognizing that back-to-back playdates isn’t a wise choice. It might mean getting them away from a relative who’s insisting on a hug or a kiss (forced affection isn’t fun for anyone). It’s saying no to more candy or cookies despite the begging and pleading and whining. It could also look like vocalizing a (loose) plan before visiting anywhere, and going over behavior expectations well in advance. (Reasonable expectations don’t equal lowered expectations.) Kids thrive under boundaries, so don’t let the holidays throw their world into too much of a tizzy.

Do you have any helpful tips for helping families navigate the holidays in a healthy and fulfilling way? How do you have realistic holiday expectations for kids? I’d love to hear! Share them in the comments!

PS. If you’re a classroom teacher and are looking for ways to keep stress at bay in the classroom, this post is SUPER HELPFUL!

PSS. My favorite holiday exchange gift list is live HERE!

Looking for another great blog to follow? Check out The Twin Blog, authored by my sister, Aubrea Atkinson.

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