How Can We Refocus the Holidays This Year?

Question: In our extended family, we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. Hanukkah is wrapping up now and Christmas is about to begin—which means there are a lot of presents for our children and their cousins all month long.

We’d like to simplify our holidays, partly because we see our children becoming overwhelmed by all the toys and gifts. With their symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity, it’s no longer a special time—just a sudden commotion that ends with no one, children or adults, feeling very festive. How can we cut back on gift giving and still make this a special time, especially since we’ve had to limit so many other fun activities this year?

Answer: Feeling burned out is not how anyone wants to spend the holiday season. Many families, just like yours, are looking at how they can scale back or end gift giving and instead create meaningful holiday traditions for their children. Traditions that take into account the needs of children and adults with ADHD who easily become overwhelmed or overstimulated during events—or who struggle with impulsivity and distractibility—are important for everyone to have a joyous time.

The pandemic has also made it necessary to change some family traditions this year, too. Health officials suggest families keep gatherings small and limit close contact activities to household members. Celebrating the holidays at home can bring a new opportunity for rethinking gift giving and activities.

Rethinking gifts this year

Shifting your family’s focus from gifts to spending valuable time together can help you regain some of the magic of the holidays. Things to decide as parents or an immediate family:

  • Will we limit the number of gifts given?
  • How many gifts? Will they be store-bought or homemade?
  • What is the budget for gifts? How can we encourage creativity within that budget?

Some families decide the flurry of gift giving isn’t their best option and look for other ways to make the season bright. Ideas for holidays without gifts include:

  • Donate gifts or dinner to another family that is struggling financially.
  • Help children pick out donations for children’s toy programs or hospitals.
  • Plan family day trips to outdoor events during the holiday season.
  • Share a seasonal picnic at a local park, or a sledding trip.
  • Go for a drive to admire holiday lights in your community.
  • Give gift cards for experiences, such as passes to the zoo or lessons for a favorite activity.
  • Have evenings of traditional activities, such as decorating your home or baking holiday treats, complete with festive singing.
  • Send holiday cards or short seasonal notes to residents of local care facilities.
  • Plan special quiet nights with good books or holiday-themed movies.

The holidays as a family-focused time

Clint Edwards, a writer for the Scary Mommy parenting community, says his family is simplifying traditions this year. They won’t be focusing on gifts but on spending the season together as a family.

“If you are fortunate enough to have a young family at home, take advantage of this time,” Mr. Edwards suggests. “Use it as a moment to just be with your spouse and children. Watching movies, playing games, making cookies, cooking a simple, not-stressful meal. Forgo the holiday cleaning, and just let the house be. Make some holiday memories that don’t include rushing, or getting up early and getting home late, or getting frustrated with the kids because the house won’t be in order before company arrives.”

The most important thing is always to find and do what is best for your family. The holidays are a time for celebration, and you and your family do not have to participate in any activity that will bring you stress or unhappiness to dampen your family’s celebrations. When you scale back either gifts or activities, you create more room to enjoy being together as a family.

Still thinking about gift-giving?

Join the discussion: How do you plan to celebrate this holiday season?