Boundaries During the Holidays

In this parent’s guide, discover effective strategies on how to set boundaries during the holidays, ensuring smoother celebrations for your family.


If you’re anything like me, the upcoming holiday season is both something to look forward to and a source of stress. Because as much as I enjoy the time off, long walks in the snow, and cozying up on the couch with a hot beverage, the holidays also mean holiday work parties, kids hyped on treats, and obligatory visits to family members and friends.

Exhausted, anyone?

If you have young children, the disrupted routines and overstimulation can be a recipe for meltdowns, especially if your child struggles with emotional regulation problems. If you have teens, you might be discouraged by their desire to spend time with their friends or on their phones rather than interact with family from out of town. So how can we, as parents, ensure the holidays go as smoothly as possible?

Here are my suggestions for parents on how to set boundaries during the holidays so you can enjoy yourself without exhausting yourself.

Why Are Boundaries Important During The Holidays?

The holiday season often comes with a whirlwind of activities, obligations, and expectations, making boundaries all the more crucial for parents. Establishing boundaries with family, children, and friends helps you alleviate some of the stress and maintain control over schedules and commitments.

Avoid family conflict

Boundaries provide a framework for maintaining family harmony during the holidays. They help establish clear expectations, ensuring that everyone’s needs are respected and considered. Strong boundaries help parents prevent conflicts, misunderstandings, and excessive demands that may strain relationships.

Preserve routines and stability

Children thrive on routines and stability. So it’s no wonder that some kids struggle behaviourally during the holidays when the usual flow of their day is disrupted by poor boundaries. Parents can prioritize their children’s well-being with boundaries that help maintain essential routines, such as bedtimes.

Teach children about boundaries

The holiday season presents an excellent opportunity for parents to teach children about the importance of having and respecting others’ boundaries. By modeling healthy boundaries themselves, parents equip their children with valuable life skills that extend beyond the holiday season.

Setting Boundaries During The Holidays In 4 Easy Steps

STEP 1 – Write down clear goals, prioritizing what you value most.

Start by asking yourself what you hope to achieve during the holiday season. I suggest prioritizing and choosing a maximum of 2-3 goals.

  • Spending quality time: Do you prioritize spending time with people like family members or close friends?
  • Honoring traditions: Are there particular family traditions, whether faith-based or otherwise, that hold significance for you? Do you enjoy cooking special dishes for the holiday meal or hosting the family party? 
  • Personal relaxation: Do you aim to carve out moments for self-care and rejuvenation?
  • Fun with kids: Would you like to engage in outdoor activities or create memorable moments with your children?
  • Socializing: Do you wish to visit friends or dine out at restaurants?

Think about what truly brings you joy and aligns with your values so you can make conscious choices that contribute to a more fulfilling holiday experience. Allow yourself permission not to do things out of habit.

STEP 2 – Compare your goals to your existing plans—nix what doesn’t fit.

Once you’ve defined your goals, evaluate your existing plans and assess whether they align with your identified priorities and values. Evaluate whether your goals and plans are realistic depending on your family’s situation.

  • Realistic expectations: Are your goals feasible given your family’s situation? Will certain activities cause unnecessary stress or disrupt routines?
  • Financial considerations: Be sure to include any financial restrictions in your planning. Too many families go overboard on spending during the holidays, which can take months to recover and leads to stress and arguments.
  • Children’s participation: Set realistic expectations for your children’s involvement in holiday activities. Think about their age, interests, and energy levels when planning events such as holiday parties. Is it realistic to bring young kids to a late-night event? What about your teen who wants to watch a movie with a friend on the same day you want to relax at home?

Expect to run into a few tough decisions along the way. Brainstorm solutions and be open to compromise to create a balanced and enjoyable holiday experience. Avoid letting feelings like guilt drive your decision-making. 

STEP 3 – Firmly establish healthy boundaries for the holidays with family and friends.

Now that you’ve done some deep thinking about events in your calendar, are there any that don’t align with your goals and values? If there are, reconsider attending. Often, we do too many things to please or appease others. This then becomes a stress, which can grow into resentment. If you DO choose to participate, clearly communicate your family’s needs—and that’s where setting boundaries during the holidays comes into play.

Here are some practical ways to set boundaries effectively:

  • Selective attendance: Assess your calendar and identify events that do not align with your goals and values. Be willing to decline invitations to activities that may add unnecessary stress or conflict.
  • Communicate needs: Clearly express your family’s requirements to event organizers or hosts. This can include specifying arrival and departure times, setting limits on participation, or informing others about your child’s behavioural expectations.
  • Share your boundaries: Let your extended family and friends know about your boundaries, such as your children’s bedtime or dietary needs, to avoid unnecessary conflicts and ensure everyone’s comfort.

It can be challenging to ask for what we need. But by setting realistic expectations and fostering understanding, you can minimize misunderstandings and promote a smoother experience for everyone involved.

STEP 4 – Communicate boundaries and manage behavioural expectations with your kids.

Open communication is vital to a harmonious holiday season.

Let your children know in advance:

  • When events are happening
  • Where they are going
  • Who they will see there
  • What they are expected to do
  • What they can bring to entertain themselves

Be explicit as to the order of events and how they should act. Allow them some freedom to bring their toys, book, or phone to entertain themselves if they do not feel up to participating.

An Example Of How To Set Boundaries During The Holidays

As an example, here is my holiday preparation:

Goal 1: share a meal with my extended family on both sides

Goal 2: rest and relax at home by reading a book and having a cozy drink
Goal 3: play outside with kids, tobogganing
Goal 4: visits friends
Goal 5: go out to the restaurant

I have crossed out my last two goals because it is unrealistic for me to travel to multiple locations and restaurants with my young kids. These outings leave me exhausted and are a scheduling nightmare since I prefer to maintain their routine.

Compromise: Instead, I will choose to have a call with a few friends and plan to meet in January instead.

Boundary: I will let my family know that my children need to go to bed no later than 9 PM and that they need to let me know if I should prepare an early meal.

Need Help Tackling Problem Behaviours Before The Holidays? Parent Consultations

Ready to enjoy stress-free holiday events with your kids? Learn how parent consultations with Dr. Leon can nip problem behaviors in the bud. Ensure a harmonious and joyful holiday season for the whole family.

Read These Next

Frequently Asked Questions 

How can I effectively communicate boundaries to family and friends during the holidays?

Clearly express your needs and expectations, such as arrival and departure times, limits on participation, and behavioural expectations for your children. Share your boundaries in a respectful and open manner to avoid conflicts and ensure everyone’s comfort.

What if some events or activities do not align with my goals and values?

It’s important to evaluate your plans and be willing to decline invitations to events that may cause unnecessary stress or conflict. Prioritize activities that are in line with your goals and values, and consider compromising or finding alternative ways to connect with loved ones.

How can I create a more balanced and enjoyable holiday season for my family?

Establish realistic expectations, maintain routines, manage financial responsibilities, communicate plans and expectations to your children, and engage in open and honest communication with family and friends to foster understanding and harmony.

Boundaries are crucial for parents during the holidays to prevent burnout and maintain a healthy balance between family obligations and personal well-being. Establishing limits helps parents manage stress, set realistic expectations, and avoid overwhelming themselves with excessive responsibilities, allowing them to enjoy the festivities without feeling emotionally or physically drained. Additionally, boundaries enable parents to prioritize self-care, maintain their individual identities, and model healthy behavior for their children by demonstrating the importance of maintaining personal boundaries.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon provides online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

Found this helpful? Share with a friend!