by: Rebecca Alwine

make holidays wonderful, not overwhelming for your little ones


By Rebecca Alwine, Army Spouse

The holidays are such a fun and colorful time. They bring out the kid in all of us, but as we start decorating, buying, and visiting, we often forget how draining it can be for the little ones.

I remember the early Christmases with my family. I am the oldest of four, and we lived close (within the same state) to both sets of grandparents the first 12 years of my life. We’d travel to see them frequently, but my parents put their foot down about being somewhere else on Christmas morning. They felt it was extremely important for kids to be in their own house that morning.

It’s something my husband and I have adopted as much as possible, which is really hard as a military family. My oldest is eight this year, my youngest will turn seven months on Christmas day, and we’ve stuck to our goal of having Christmas at home almost every year.

The reasons we do so center on the idea of family time, more than presents and big meals, and over stimulation. As we moved several times in our ten years of marriage and celebrated holidays on different days, we’ve realized that the single most important thing is to focus on our kids and what they are learning.

Things to Keep in Mindsdwh_ax_4nc-elena-ferrer

The bright lights and music can be over stimulating for small children, resulting in cranky, sleepless nights.

Meeting new family members can be stressful for young kids, as they think they are letting you down when they can’t remember people.

Trying to corral young, energy-filled children in someone else’s house, or even worse, a hotel room is just pure torture.

Kids, of all ages, really enjoy their routine and their house. They want to open presents, play with them, and not feel the need to entertain anyone.

Ideas to Keep it Small, yet Fun

Go with four presents this year: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.

Consider giving an event or activity as a family instead of a physical gift.

Start a new tradition, something that is easy to maintain, like watching the Polar Express while drinking hot chocolate or caroling with friends.

Remember the Important Things

I love Christmas; it’s my favorite time of year. While I’m a staunch ‘don’t start decorating until after Thanksgiving’ person, I know that isn’t always possible with our lifestyles. When my kids were young, I knew that I needed to set the standard for gifts early. I wanted them to appreciate what they received, and I wanted room to grow and add on as they got older.

The past few years we’ve done three presents for each kid. We’ve pretty much kept it to one big one and two smaller ones, and then their stocking. They know what to expect, and they are not disappointed. Christmas morning has never been overwhelming for them, and that is the most important thing for me.

Keep Things in Check

xmas-06-photoThere are some great ways to keep things in check. We track Santa with the Air Force and talk about people in other countries, most of whom have so much less than we do. Also, we shop for other kids via the Angel Tree project or fill shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. We read books on Christmas. Our favorite is The Soldier’s Night Before Christmas.

Each Christmas morning, the kids come and wake us up, though not before their 7 o’clock wake up time, and one of us checks to make sure Santa isn’t still there. We head out as a family, and they patiently wait as we make coffee. We open presents and enjoy the time together. It’s usually afternoon before we think about getting dressed. Sometimes we spend the evening with friends and sometimes it’s just us.

Simplicity is key. You know your kids better than anyone else. While it’s hard to say no to people, especially family, gently remind them that while your children are adaptable, they depend on you to help minimize distractions and uncomfortable situations.

Enjoy these special days of making family memories! Happy Holidays!


AuthorRebecca Alwine is a PCSgrades’ Blogger Affiliate, freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found hiding behind the sewing machine or with her nose in a book. Her writing experience includes military family topics, research pieces, guest blogging, and much more. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY Magazine, a regular contributor for several publications including to Homefront United Network, PCSGrades, ESME, and has also been published in Ms. Magazine and The Atlantic. You can follow her online at or on Twitter (@rebecca_alwine) and Instagram (@rebecca_alwine).