4 important steps to ease holiday parenting


The following is a guest post written by Kassandra Brown of Parentcoaching.org.

“You’re too clumsy to be my mom” shrieks my 5 year old after I knock her glass of Christmas punch off the counter.

I look at the spreading stain and bite my tongue on yet another reminder that putting glasses on the edge of the counter means they are more likely to get spilled. I am tired and distracted and just trying to get dinner going.

“Yes, I am clumsy sometimes. Let’s clean this up,” I say instead.

“But that’s the last of the juice and I really wanted it and it’s really special. If you love me you’ll get me more.”

She’s crying hard now.

When she says “If you love me, you’ll do …” it’s hard for me to remember the tools in my toolbox.

I know she wants love and connection, but those words trigger anger and defensiveness in me. I feel like yelling back. Instead I remind her cups shouldn’t be near the edge while hearing an edge of irritation creep into my voice.

IMG_8885 Photo by Jacob Botter

At that moment my parent coach walks into the kitchen. He’s a good friend but still the timing seems serendipitous. His presence helps me find my tools and remember how important it is to stay connected without giving in or giving up.

I stop making dinner and walk over to my daughter. Sitting down near her, I invite her onto my lap. She seems to ignore my offer.

“I hear you’re really sad and angry. That juice was important to you.”

“Yeah, and you need to get me more!”

“Sometimes hard things happen. You want more juice and there isn’t any more. You’re upset.”

After a few more minutes of her expressing upset and me reflecting while guessing at her feelings, she climbs onto my lap and I can see how tired she is.

candy heart Photo by M F

At this point the exact words we said aren’t so important. The wonderful thing that allowed us both to settle down and connect was a change in my attitude. The shift to compassion allowed me to keep clear boundaries while being with her upset without taking on personal guilt or blame.

The Christmas season is a time when guilt, blame, and stress are sometimes even more abundant than holiday cheer and carols. Boundaries can be hard to keep.

Do you ever:

  • Skip your own self care to make Christmas perfect for your children?
  • Bend the rules for your kids to try to avoid a meltdown and give yourself a break?
  • Buy them gifts you didn’t want to buy?

Do you ever feel like no matter what you do Christmas doesn’t turn out the way you hope and plan? Do you ever feel like you’re failing?

Holiday expectations from our children, our extended families, and ourselves can add up to a time of trying to please everyone and losing ourselves.

What can you do instead?

  1. Keep clear boundaries. Setting good boundaries is one of the most important things you can do to make the holidays easier. When you say no, mean it. When you say yes, mean it. When you have clear boundaries, kids feel safer and are better behaved – in the long run. In the short term you may have more tears, tantrums, and power struggles. You’ll need Step 2.
  2. Stay Connected. Listen. Empathize. Reflect what you see and how you think your child feels. It’s paramount to both validate their feeling and keep your boundaries. “Yes,” you say. “Sometimes life is hard. It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to yell at people at the dinner table.” To stay connected while keeping your boundaries, you’ll need Step 3.
  3. Get support. Parenting is hard. Changing the way you parent is harder. Talking with someone neutral and sympathetic can help a lot. Learning the skills of listening and responding with compassion, reflection, and honesty take time and effort. Receiving that kind of listening for yourself can make it easier to share that gift with your children. Visit here to get help keeping clear boundaries while staying connected to your kids.
  4. Look at your own training and background. What do the holidays mean to you? What are the traditions you grew up with? They are yours in some way. When you become conscious of these patterns and beliefs, you are more empowered to choose to change. You can have holidays more in alignment with your current values. Step 3 can help you do this. Self-care is paramount.

Try this: The next time your child begs for something and melts down, turn it into an opportunity to have a connected conversation about values, needs and feelings.

That conversation may happen after tears and anger, but I imagine you staying strong in your values and offering the compassionate listening that gets you through the meltdown with ease.

Happy holidays!

How do you keep healthy boundaries during the holiday season?

About Kassandra Brown

Kassandra Brown is a homeschooling mompreneur at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. She loves helping parents with self-care, parenting, and relationships at parentcoaching.org.


  1. I totally agree with showing compassion and empathy towards our children, also while they are in the middle of a meltdown. You mentioned a few things that your daughter said to you, the way that she talked to you. In our home, that is considered an extremely disrespectful way of talking to anyone, especially kids to parents. My 5 yr.old would FIRST recieve discipline for the disrespectful talk, and THEN we would address the “yes, I know you wanted the juice, let’s see what we can do about it.” With all due respect, Ma’am, if your 5 yr old is talking to you like that now, how do you think she’ll talk to you in 5 or 10 years? Please correct me if I misunderstood the point here. You addressed the need for your attitude change but didn’t mention that a child should never be allowed to speak so disrespectfully. As a parent coach, do you feel this is appropriate talk for a 5 yr. old?

    • Thanks so much for brining up this point, Sara. It’s a very important one.
      Saturday is my day off. While this is a juicy subject that I’m temped to dive into now, I’m going to wait and respond to you and the other commnts Sunday and Monday.

    • Hello again Sara. If I’m hearing you correctly, your main concern is that I’m allowing my daughter to be disrespectful because I did not correct her, and even agreed with her, when she said I was too clumsy to be her mom. I think that’s a valid concern. Who wants disrespectful kids? Not me. Not you. And not anyone else I’ve ever met.

      There are a couple of dynamics going on that weren’t captured fully in this blog post. I’ll list them here and flush them out in my responses to other comments below.
      1) I do not endorse permissive parenting that says kids can do and say whatever they want when they want. Who wants to be around brats? Nor do I take an authoritarian approach that says children must be polite and respectful at all times. Who wants to be around doormats? Rather I want to raise and support you in raising in your own home, children who are aware of their own feelings and needs and have learned effective ways of meeting those needs – both through communication with others and through their own efforts.
      2) There are teaching moments when someone is available to learn a particular skill. The teaching moment for correcting behavior to make it more respectful is not when someone is highly emotionally charged. That’s a good teaching moment for compassion, clear boundaries, and sleuthing out underlying needs.
      3) When parental fear or shame gets triggered, it’s hard to remember the good tools in your toolbox.
      4) A good supportive person in your life can help you learn through your own triggers to become a happier and more effective parent.
      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

      All the best,

  2. I agree with the above statement, while how the child feels is important and offering compassion paramount, the correction of disrespect would need to come first in our home, even in a simple… ” that was disrespectful to speak to mommy that way, please tell me again what you are upset about in a respectful way and then we can talk about it.” From my perspective children will always have strong feelings and they will always need to learn to express them in a way that is respectful, this is the beginning of an adult with self control and we want a lot
    of those in our future! =)

    • Thanks so much for brining up this point, RM. Self control and respect are very important
      Saturday is my day off. While this is a juicy subject that I’m temped to dive into now, I’m going to wait and respond to you and the other commnts Sunday and Monday.
      Kassandra Brown’s latest post: Remaking Holiday Traditions = More Meaning

    • Hi RM. I hope you’ll read the responses to the comments above and below too.

      “You’re too clumsy to be my mom” is so over the top and out of character that it was a sign to me to soften and connect not to hook into my beliefs about how ‘my child should show respect and not talk to me that way’. We have clear boundaries around ways that it’s kind to talk to people, ways that it’s not, how to express frustration in ways that you’re likely to be heard, and how other ways of expressing frustration push people away.

      Different moments are good for teaching different things. This was not a good teaching moment for teaching respectful language. It would not have added to what she already knows. When I was first reading these comments I asked her “Is it OK to call me clumsy?” She looked at me with surprise and said “No, of course not.” The moment in the story was a good moment for connecting in and learning to soften through my own triggers to embrace her in her upset without trying to bribe or threaten her into changing. Then to trust that something better than good behavior would emerge. And it did.

      If I was totally centered and using this as the best possible parenting moment, I would have reflected and connected immediately without accepting her judgment. More on why I accepted her judgment in the next response. More on the role of the supportive witness in the one after that.

      We absolutely need a world where adults have self-control and self-awareness. We want adults who know who they are, what they want, what they have to offer, and how to offer in ways that will be seen and accepted. Our world is so hungry for responsible, loving human beings.

      Thank you for caring enough to read and comment. Your thoughtful parenting will help create a world where adults like this exist.
      All the best,
      Kassandra Brown’s latest post: Remaking Holiday Traditions = More Meaning

  3. I’ll keep this short since Sara and RM have done a great job of expressing what I was thinking. Your child should never speak to in that way. While I agree with acknowledging a child’s feelings, disrespect should never be tolerated. Are these the life skills you want your child to take into the world? Based on what you’ve written, there seems to be a larger issue here than the stress of Christmas.

    • Marcelene, of course you’re right that this is a larger issue than the stress of Christmas. I’m going to resist the urge to go into my philosophy around this since Saturday is my day off, but I wanted to send you a brief acknowledgement and let you know I’ll respond more by Monday afternoon. Happy weekend.
      Kassandra Brown’s latest post: Remaking Holiday Traditions = More Meaning

    • Hi Marcelene,
      You’re absolutely right that there’s more going on here than the stress of Christmas. Children trigger their parent’s unresolved issues causing pain and discomfort. That’s an unavoidable fact of parenting.

      To give more context to the situation I wrote about in the article I’ll share some of my vulnerabilities with you here. One of the fears that has driven my life is the fear that I’ll embarrass myself and that others will think poorly of me. I’ve tried to counter that one by getting straight A’s, only doing things I’m good at, and making sure I’m right. Somehow none of those really worked and the fear still nagged me. More recently I’ve been willing to be more vulnerable and failable. I’ve embraced mistakes as part of how humans grow and learn.
      Along the way I’ve found that accepting the judgments I’m afraid of can disarm a lot of their power. That’s what I was doing when I said “Yes I am clumsy sometimes.” I was accepting the truth of the words without needing to defend myself. And I can see how reading those words in an article on parenting could sound like the worst permissive doormat style parenting. No wonder it raised red flags for you.

      Yet I’m going to invite you to turn 180 and try it on. You don’t even have to say anything out loud or admit anything to your children.

      Try this – the next time someone says something about you that you don’t like, entertain for a moment how that thing they said could be true and at the same time how it doesn’t negate anything good about you. See if you can let that judgment in and let it go without needing to defend against it or hold onto it to berate yourself with later. Feel how you are still you with all your gifts and beauty. You survived the judgment and perhaps learned something in the process.

      Here’s another example of putting this idea to work– I was expressing to a friend who’d recently been in a conflict that I was concerned about heavy drinking among her and her friends. I didn’t want to bring up alcohol use because I didn’t think my concern would change anything except to make her see me as judgmental or as a teetotaler who just wasn’t and never would be cool. When I allowed myself to accept my own judgment as a straight-laced teetotaler, I stopped feeling defensive and scared to speak to her. I had already lived through my fear and that freed up my energy. I was able to express my concern and then stay present for her real reaction rather than the one I had been afraid she’d have. The happy bonus to this story is that she told me a few weeks later that she hadn’t been drinking since our conversation and she was really proud of herself.

      The moral of that story for me? Handling my own fears allows me to live more honestly while making room for the people around me to do their own good work.

      I hope you’ll try it on and see what happens for you.

      All the best,
      Kassandra Brown’s latest post: Remaking Holiday Traditions = More Meaning

  4. While there are good tips in this post for getting through the stress of the holidays with sanity, I couldn’t get past the glaring disrespectful behavior of your 5 year old. If my child (who also is 5) told me I was too clumsy to be her mom my response would not be to agree with her that I am clumsy! I am all for loving connections with our kids, but if they aren’t trained to have basic respect for others we are nurturing brats.

    • Sometimes there seems to be tension between validating children and raising brats. I love the ideas these comments are raising and look forward to responding. I’ll write more Monday. Until then, happy weekend.
      Kassandra Brown’s latest post: Remaking Holiday Traditions = More Meaning

    • Hi Natalie,

      I think I’ve addressed the concerns you’re expressing about raising brats in the comments above. The remaining thing I’d like to say is abour upset and support.

      My daughter knows that that language is not kind or respectful. That’s why she used it. Those words are a tragic expression of her unmet need. Tragic because what she wants is to feel powerful, in control, and loved. But most people, especially parents, will react to words like that by rejecting the behavior while acting either angry or hurt. That’s almost exactly the opposite of what the child is hoping for. I can hear you now – well of course it’s the opposite of what the child wants because behavior like that shouldn’t be tolerated or reinforced.
      But the crazy thing is, the anger and rejection of parents when it comes from our own triggers actually reinforces the behavior we don’t like in our kids.
      Let’s try this from another point of view – Do you ever get in an argument with your husband or best friend and say things that you know are out of line? What were you longing for in that moment. Underneath the anger and frustration on the surface, what did you really want? How did you hope the other would respond? If they responded with anger, their own hurt, or rejection did it help improve your connection? Did it help you be more loving and respectful to them? To yourself?

      The last point I’ll make here is that getting help is sometimes necessary. When we want to change entrenched behaviors in ourselves and our children we need help. That’s why it was so valuable to have the support of my parent coach in that moment n the kitchen with my daughter. It was amazing how having him there, even though he didn’t say much in the moment, reminded me of the skills and tools I had available. Working on those skills with him in quiet moments of reflection and then being reminded of them in the heat of the moment helped so much.

      And that’s the same support I’m providing to parents. Helping you have better tools in your toolbox so that you can respond with finesse, strength, and care to a wide variety of situations. Sometimes that’s going to be reminding your child how to speak respectfully. Sometimes that’s going to be listening through her ‘disrespect’ to what’s underneath and meeting those needs without giving in or giving up.

      All the best,
      Kassandra Brown’s latest post: Remaking Holiday Traditions = More Meaning

  5. I am also disappointed. I really love the blog here and thought there might be a good post to post on Facebook for friends but I wouldn’t do that with this one. It is really good to keep empathy in mind, to not over schedule our kids, to simplify so that this time is a time for joy and not one of stress. I think it is not okay to let our kids be disrespectful to us. If they are allowed to do this at home, how will learn to treat others( teachers, coaches, other friends’ parents, bosses ) with respect. Outsiders will not take it very well and then the child is at a disadvantage.

  6. Marnie, your questions about respect are good ones. I look forward to answering them but not today. Saturday is my day off and were it not for the heads up from Jamie, I wouldn’t have even known your concerns were here today. I hope you’ll check back Monday. Perhaps you’ll feel more inclined to share the blog after you read the comment responses. In the meantime, happy weekend.
    Kassandra Brown’s latest post: Remaking Holiday Traditions = More Meaning

  7. I think you nailed it, Kassandra. Nicely done, Mama!
    From an attachment parenting perspective, especially. You understand that the heat of the moment isn’t necessarily the time to make pronouncements about disrespect. You met your child where she was, in a dark place of sadness and frustration about the juice. And to many adults, that would seem trivial, but to a child who is feeling those Big Feelings in the moment, it is a very big deal indeed.
    The connection between parent and child is tantamount, and you preserved and respected that.
    Your child respects you for meeting her needs, as a dependent person, while still acknowledging her complicated emotions and giving them the space they required.
    This was a beautiful example of parenting from the heart, and not from a top-down power dynamic that will very likely result in emotional estrangement down the line.
    I strongly disagree with the folks shining their lights onto the verbal interaction between you and your child.
    Respect is not prescribed, it is built.
    It is easy to shame a child into submission, or to elicit a certain type of behaviour desired, but when it comes right down to it, you maintained your connection with your child. Everything else will follow.
    Your child respects you. You know that. She knows that.

  8. Hi Carrie Mac,
    I’m so glad my words resonate with you. I love the way that you also relate to teaching moments. There are two other posts I’ve written for simplehomeschool that you might like. They are on self care and empathy. You might enjoy those too 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement!

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