As winter break approaches, children are likely bouncing with excitement. Parents, on the other hand, might be a bit nervous worrying about getting the kids to all of their holiday events and making sure their children know how to respond when they get that gift they didn’t really want.

Family gatherings present additional challenges since some children may be less open to being

Dr. Tammy Zacchilli

around large groups of relatives that they only see a few times a year. Some relatives may try to force affection as well which can create stress for some children. I mean, does Great Aunt Tilly really have to kiss everyone she greets?

Winter break doesn’t have to be stressful. It can actually be a lot of fun!

Here are a few tips to help parents make it through winter break without losing their sanity:

Keep the kids busy!

It’s easy for kids to get bored when they are at home all day. Fortunately, there are many opportunities for winter break camps related to arts and crafts, music, dance, sports, etc. Even local aquariums, zoos, and amusement parks may offer camps during the break. For families in the Tampa Bay area, here is a link with just a few examples of winter break camps.

Start a family tradition

Maybe you and your family already have holiday traditions like baking cookies or volunteering with a local organization. If you do not have a family tradition yet for the holidays, I highly encourage starting a tradition that your family can look forward to each year. For example, when we travel to visit our family for the holidays, we always ride a Christmas train. My family also attends a Walk through Bethlehem every year. Yes, we even have not one, but three Elves on a Shelf!  With time, you may have one holiday tradition that is important to your family, or you may even have a few things that your family enjoys year after year.

Emphasize gratitude

Children often say things without thinking. “I didn’t ask for a doll!” “Why didn’t I get a video game like my sister?” Parents really need to start teaching children gratitude at an early age. One of my daughter’s former dance teachers used to say, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.”

It can be difficult depending on the age of the child, but gentle reminders before a party to say “thank you” can be helpful regardless of the age of the child. Additionally, parents might also consider donating gifts through a Giving Tree or preparing boxes for Samaritan’s Purse to help them learn the true meaning of the holidays.

Prepare relatives for your visit

Children have different personalities and respond to situations in different ways. Some children are very outgoing and make friends easily, while others are shy and may not enjoy being around a large group of relatives. You know your child’s personality and behaviors so it might be useful to have a conversation with relatives before you arrive. Just a simple reminder that Ally is shy and doesn’t feel comfortable with hugs can make a visit more pleasurable for your child.

I hope you find these tips helpful as you prepare for winter break with your children. While it can certainly be challenging, spending time with your children during the break can be an amazing time. too!

Happy Holidays!


Dr. Tammy Lowery Zacchilli is a professor of psychology at Saint Leo University. She is the Southeastern Regional Vice President of Psi Chi and associate editor of the Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research. Zacchilli earned her bachelor’s degree from Kennesaw State University; her master’s from Augusta State University; and her PhD from Texas Tech.