How do you typically spend your holidays? Traveling? Cooking? Shopping? Lots of all of that? What traditions do you especially love? Are there some you don’t particularly like but do them anyway (I know that Elf on the Shelf might come to mind for some of you).

It is so disappointing having expectations that aren’t met. It’s true for adults and children. Because this time of year is often filled with so many traditions, we tend to have a lot of expectations going into the holiday season.

Right now we want as much “normal” and consistency as possible. But we know that this season is unlikely to be typical for most of us. Even though many of us have learned to be flexible and deal with change this year, the holidays, especially with darker, shorter days, may be especially challenging in 2020.

We’re going to have to manage our expectations. But how do we do that?

Think about the things that make you happiest first. If those are out of reach this year, can you modify them? Prioritize workarounds for the things that bring you the most joy, if possible. For instance, if you aren’t comfortable taking the kids to the Polar Express train ride this year, could you make your own “train” with storage containers or chairs and recreate the experience at home?

By thinking about the changes ahead of time you are less likely to feel disappointed. You may need to prepare your children as well to help them manage their expectations. Get them involved in finding new and different ways to celebrate.

We also need to focus on the things that bring us joy. This may take some extra effort this year, but when we can see the good in tough situations we teach our children to do the same.

Managing expectations and focusing on what is positive can help tremendously with anxiety.

What else can you do?

Encourage your children to start a new tradition. Let them be creative! What ideas do they have?

  • Maybe they make an ornament for the tree
  • Make up a holiday-themed game
  • Make cards for nursing home or assisted living residents
  • Make a new cookie recipe

What is a new tradition you can start?

  • A family sleepover in the living room one night before Christmas
  • Start giving gag gifts on Christmas Eve (this is actually a tradition in my family and one of my favorite traditions!)
  • Do a family craft—create your own advent calendar
  • Try a different theme for the holiday
  • Decorate in a different way or have the kids add holiday pictures they make

When we get too focused on how things “should” be, we are likely to be more disappointed. Be flexible, and remember, there is a lot of good to be had this year, even if it isn’t what we’re used to.