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Young Kids & the Holidays

Young Kids & the Holidays

The holidays can be joyful, relaxing, and enjoyable as you gather up relatives from far and wide, but for young kids you can sometimes anticipate antsy-ness, stress, and sometimes downright irritable moods. This Wonder Wednesday, we offer some advice through a summer camp & psychological point of view to make the holidays a more enjoyable time for your little one!



Does your kiddo typically rattle off long lists of things they hate, refuse to eat unknown dishes, or have meltdowns at the table? Check out some tips from Megan Barna, an outpatient dietitian at the Children’s National Medical Center and from some Appel Farm tips to keep them fed and happy!

  • Ask for their input – choice makes everyone feel better!

At camp, our kids get to choose what they want from the salad bar and what they like to drink – why can’t this choice carry over into the rest of the year? Take your child to the supermarket with you, get their thoughts on what they want to eat – within reason – and overall make an effort to let them in on the mysterious processes of the planning. Children are less likely to complain about choices they themselves made, so go ahead and ask: Should we have carrots, broccoli, or cauliflower?


  • Bring them with you into the kitchen.

There’s always a job that can be done in the kitchen that will help kids feel more ownership over the meal and more respect for what goes into the process. At camp, our Northies go on a blueberry-picking trip with their CIT buddies and then work together to make muffins with our beloved Sarv’s recipe. This process, which happens every session, helps facilitate togetherness while teaching a skill and ending up with a fun snack they are proud to have made themselves!


  • Eat normally prior to the big meal.

Many families, including my own, often opt to skip regular meals in anticipation of a big holiday dinner, but this leaves kids feeling antsy and hangry*. And if they don’t eat enough during the day only to be faced with a plate of not-normal foods, get ready for some big feelings at the table. At camp, we know that little kiddos and big kiddos alike do better with snacks when we have a lot to do. Help them all out by setting aside snacks with fiber and protein to keep them in a good mood and let it okay to not eat certain things because at least they’ve eaten something.


  • End the day on a healthy, reflective note.

After indulging in lots of food, try to take a walk together. The family dog wants some togetherness too! Enjoy the neighborhood and aid digestion by getting your body moving. On your walk, talk about your favorite parts of the day and think about how things were different last year. You can snuggle with the cat when you get back inside while you talk about your Rose, Thorn & Bud**!

*Hungry+Angry, we’ve all been there.
**A camp tradition! At the end of the day, we gather and talk about the best part of our day (Rose), the hardest part of our day (Thorn), and something that has begun that we’re excited to see come to fruition (Bud)!


The planning, the cleaning, the travel time – our hustle surrounding the holidays can sometimes manifest in stress for our younger kids. Eleanor Mackey, a child psychologist also at the Children’s National Medical Center gives some suggestions that, together with some Appel Farm practices they learn during the summer, should help you manage your child’s stress.

  • Structure your plans.

“Planning ahead can go a long way to help prevent problems,” says Mackey. Think about your family’s typical schedule and try to fit holiday plans around them. If dinner happens later than typical bedtime, your child will certainly not be up to entertaining relatives keen on cheek-pinching and cooing over how cute they look.


  • Let them know what your expectations are.

Explain to your child how the gathering will go from the time they arrive: they will have a certain amount of time to play with cousins before everyone will go sit at the table. If your family does any kind of reflection-based traditions before eating, give them an idea of how long that will take and how long you expect them to sit at the table before getting to play again. At camp, sometimes unknown situations can be frightening or stressful (to kids of any age!) but with clear expectations of how to behave, how long something should take, and when they should expect to be going to bed, we can prevent upset outbursts, crying, or any kind of fussing in little kids or isolating behavior and anxiety in tweens and older kids.


  • Prepare for that weird present.

My brother’s outburst at his Hanukkah Toothbrush will forever go down in our family history. Before you go out, prepare them that if someone gives them a present, it’s because “they like you, and sometimes they might guess wrong.” Help model some easy things to say that doesn’t feel like you’re telling them to lie. Instead, prompt them to focus on the intent over the gift itself: “It was so nice of you to think of me when you got this.” Then laugh about it later in private. That toothbrush went in the drawer so fast, it’s probably still there, all these years later!



Speaking of giving thanks, Richard Weissbourd, the Co-Director of the Making Caring Common Project at Harvard, suggests a couple of ways to encourage your children to become more caring and considerate people at holiday times.

  • Thank someone outside the family.

Help your kids to think about people in their lives who helps improve their lives – like the custodian at school or the bus driver. Ask your little one how they would like to thank these other people in their lives, like with a note, a gift or a kind deed. This will help kids take notice of people they aren’t normally grateful for and put others’ happiness on their radar. At camp, prompted affirmation circles (sitting in a circle and taking turns telling the person next to you what you appreciate or love about them) and warm fuzzies (small, kind notes that can be anonymous or signed) jumpstart kind thoughts that leave everyone feeling appreciated and in a better mood.


  • Get your kids involved with the gifts.

If your youngster has trouble picking something out online or buying presents themselves, they can still make personalized keepsakes or help you pick something out for someone else. Encouraging the kids to help parents pick out gifts for each other or teaming up with older siblings can be a great ways to have them understand how much consideration goes into gift-giving.


  • Show gratitude as a family through service.

What does your family value or want to help with? There are lots of opportunities to help others around the holidays, and Appel Farm will be sponsoring a Day of Service in New York City and in Philadelphia on January 15th! Meet up with your camp friends and do something nice for others with your whole family. Keep this date clear on your calendar and keep an eye out for more details as we get closer! Service can happen all year round, so talk with your family about an organization you can all commit to together.

We hope you enjoy the togetherness allowed by the holidays and wish you a happy new year!
Read the rest of this great article by Amy Joyce from the Washington Post here.

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