There may be no place like home for the holidays, but seeing relatives during one of the busiest times of the year can also be a smidgen stressful. Here’s how to ensure family holiday visits are as smooth as a freshly fallen field of snow.

 

Prep the kids to see family.

Make the visit an opportunity for your kids to work on empathy: Start by showing kids photos and tell them stories about family members you’ll be seeing, including what they were like when they were your kids’ ages and what they like doing now. If you’re traveling, ask about your host’s house rules for kids. Is everyone expected to say grace at Grandma’s house? Are children allowed to make a couch fort in the living room? Then go over them a few times with your kids before your trip. 

 

Share your own expectations — including sensitivities — with relatives.

Speaking of expectations, let relatives know which parenting rules are most important to you — for example, you’d like to get your child to bed by 8 or set limits on video game time. At the same time, you can also let relatives know about any sensitivities for your family. In addition to avoiding discussions of sex, religion and politics, you may want to steer clear of topics like parenting philosophies, if/when you’re having more kids, and/or the fact that your preschooler isn’t potty-trained yet.

 

Keep life predictable.

Kids do better with routine. Don’t get them to bed late or skip snacks and expect them to keep it together. Bring a few books, their lovey and a pillowcase from home to keep things feeling as familiar as possible. And give plenty of warning before transitions. They can feel especially jarring for kids in a strange environment or when a lot is going on.

 

Take a deep breath before you discipline. 

You may feel pressure from relatives to be extra strict with your kids, especially when you’re in front of an audience. If a kid starts melting down, step into another room or outside, away from the view and earshot of others, and take a minute or two for you and your kid to calm down before you deal with the situation. Before the visit, you might also thank your parents or other family members for supporting you even when you don’t always do things the same way. If relatives still end up offering unsolicited parenting advice, acknowledge their concern and say something like “Hmm, you might be right.” That lets you defuse the criticism without engaging in an argument; that said, it doesn’t mean you have to agree or change your behavior.

 

Do something together.

Planning all-ages activities such as going sledding, watching a holiday movie or decorating a gingerbread house gives everyone something to focus on and takes the pressure off, especially if your relationship with family members can be shaky. You might also want to set aside some time for your kids to hang out with others. If your dad loves spending time with your kids, for example, see if he’s up for a play date just for them. That gives you a break — and your kids a chance to bond with him.

 

Plan downtime.

That said, trying to do too much can lead to tantrums (and not always from the kids). One group activity per day is a good rule. To keep kids relaxed and calm, try baths, doing artwork together, cuddling up to watch an episode of Q Wunder, and/or special time with you. And don’t forget yourself: Turn in an hour before you go to sleep to read, or take advantage of the additional adults around and go for a solo walk before breakfast every morning.