Less Stress, More Fun: A Caregiver’s Guide to the Holidays

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The Community and Family Coordinators (CFCs) have compiled a list of tips to help reduce holiday stress.

The holidays can be full of joy and wonder but they can also be a stressful time of year for many families. Often times, families have noted stress in the four areas: social media, money, family members and mealtimes – also known as the 4 M’s. The Community and Family Coordinators (CFCs) have compiled a list of tips to help reduce holiday stress in the areas of the 4 M’s. Keep reading to learn more about the tips and strategies recommended for each area!

Social Media

For every perfect social media post, there is a whole reality that you cannot see. When we look at these perfect images of smiling kids, it can make us feel inadequate. You may think, “How come they can do it and I can’t?” It’s important to remember that you are only viewing one moment in time, and you don’t know what it took to get them there.

Here are four tips to consider when you are browsing through social media this holiday season:
  1. Recognize that social media is not real life. Often, people only post the best parts of themselves and their lives. Don’t compare your life to someone else’s highlight reel.
  2. You don’t need to do every holiday activity. All the holiday activities/photo ops may not be what your child wants or needs. Children need caregivers who are self-regulated and not worn-out, and taking on too many activities, parties and outings can be just as stressful for our kids. Ditch the guilt from not “doing it all” and focus on being present and doing what is important for your family!
  3. You can choose how you want to do holiday photos. If you decide to do photos with Santa, consider visiting a sensory-friendly alternative than the busy crowds that a mall may bring. Remember, you don’t have to do photos with Santa if you feel like it is too much for your family.


Money can be a tough topic, especially during the holiday season. Kids often write out lists of presents they are hoping to receive, and this can put pressure on caregivers.

Here are some tips when it comes to gift-giving during the holidays:
  1. Take a picture of possible present ideas! To save time and money, when your kids want something from the store throughout the year, take a picture of it. This helps keep it in mind for your family and your photos can become a holiday shopping list!
  2. Collect presents throughout the year instead of all at once. It is often easier to purchase small items more regularly than to spend a lot of money at one time.
  3. Apply for assistance from holiday charities, churches or food banks. More families than ever are accessing assistance, and if you think you may qualify, it’s worth looking into! A few options in the community are:
  4. Incorporate activities like holiday baking for gift-giving. This can often be a more affordable gift option for friends and family and a great way to spend time together. It also helps instill the spirit of giving as kids watch the reactions of loved ones enjoying something they made!
  5. Remember that more isn’t always better. Sometimes children can get overwhelmed from too many gifts, so you can consider limiting the gift list to reduce the stress on everyone!
  6. There is no right way to wrap or open a gift. For some kids, trying to unwrap gifts can be stressful for many reasons (i.e., fine motor challenges, anxiety, etc.). Consider using bins, cloth bags or having the packaging already removed to reduce stress. You may also want to consider whether your child enjoys opening gifts privately or in front of others.  
  7. Buy gift packs! Tight on money but want them to be able to open more gifts? Consider buying gift packs (book and toy sets) and wrapping them separately.
  8. Buy/sell secondhand. Quite often we find ourselves purchasing items that don’t end up being enjoyed the way we thought they would. Consider buying/selling secondhand items on local Facebook groups to cut down on cost and waste!

Family members

We all have family members who can push our holiday patience. Here are some tips for when you attend family gatherings this holiday:
  1. Practice difficult conversations. Engage in conversations with family members ahead of time so you aren’t left reacting in the moment. This can help you feel more confident and in control.
  2. Learn how to shut down unproductive conversations. When someone provides information that is not helpful, consider using thoughtful responses to pivot the conversation topic. This might look like, “Thank you for sharing your opinion. This is how we do it. I would be happy to give you some more information/resources if you would like to learn more.”
  3. Consider sensory challenges. Family gatherings can be stressful and overstimulating with unfamiliar people, noises and smells. Finding a quieter part of the home and bringing some favourite toys/books/sensory tools can support your child.
  4. Consider hosting at your own home. Having a gathering in your own space where you and your family feels comfortable can be a game changer. This doesn’t mean that you have to take on all of the work. Ask guests to bring a dish and share in a potluck!
  5. Practice the art of saying “no.” While this is a difficult skill to learn, it is one that will serve you for many years to come.
  6. Give children options for how to greet others. This can be important if physical touch is difficult for your child. Set everyone up for success by giving options in front of adults, such as “It’s time to go. Would you like to give ____a hug or a high five?”
  7. Remember to take a deep breath. When you find yourself in moments where you feel worried about your child’s behaviour or needs, take a breath and tell yourself “I am a good parent/caregiver and I have a good kid.” We often prioritize someone else’s thoughts and feelings about our family and end up accommodating another adult’s comfort instead of our own or our kids.


Mealtimes can be challenging situation for families even on days outside of the holiday season. Here are some tips to support your child during mealtimes this holiday season:
  1. Consider the mealtime location. Your child does not have to eat at the table with the family if it compromises their needs and comfort. If eating at a different table or location, such as the couch or another room, works best for your family then roll with it!
  2. Consider the time of your child’s meal. You may choose to feed your child before or after everyone else. Some kids and youth may not be able to eat with the holiday excitement. Try keeping some preferred, portable snacks in a lunch bag to give you an easy back-up if they find themselves hungry later on.
  3. Consider the timing of your holiday visits. Think about planning your visits before or after mealtimes if that’s what works for your family.
  4. You do not have to make your child try holiday food/treats. The holidays may not be the best time to introduce new foods to your child when there are already so many different things happening. Having a meal that is familiar to them or preferred by them can alleviate stress for you both.
If you’re looking for additional resources on mealtime routines, consider watching our Mealtime Adventures YouTube video for tips, tricks and strategies to support a positive mealtime.

Key Takeaways

The holiday season can be a wonderful time of the year! Remember to give yourself permission to prioritize your own well-being and your family’s’. In times of stress and worry, take a moment to refocus and decide what is worth spending your energy on and try to let go of the rest. Practice saying no if you need to, focus your attention on the needs of yourself and your family and don’t get too stumped on the things that don’t go well. You can learn from your experiences this year and adjust for next year.

Remember that the most important thing about the holiday season is to have fun! Participate in the things that you and your family enjoy and remember that your own happiness and enjoyment also serves your family. This is what the season is truly about – spending time and making memories with the people we love.

From everyone at CTN, we sincerely wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!