How to Manage Your Kids’ Expectations Around the Holidays

As if parenting isn’t challenging enough from January-October, when the clock strikes 12 on November 1st parents everywhere have to deal with Kids During the Holidays. The parties, the sweets, the carols, the toy catalogs, the commercials. It’s like a Christmas bomb goes off all around our children.

Like most parents, I try hard all year not to spoil my kids. I try to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and not entitlement. I long to embrace minimalism. When November and December roll around, I don’t want to undo all of that by going over-the-top for the holidays.

Kids are a marketer’s dream and it’s natural for them to want everything they see on TV. They’ll also see plenty of images of Christmas trees with presents just pouring out from underneath it. They may think that is what’s normal, and they’ll develop huge expectations. Here are some ways to manage their expectations and keep your sanity around the holidays.

managing kids expectations around the holidays

1. Keep the lists small

Ever hand your kid a toy catalog and tell them to circle what they want, only to get it back with 90% of the toys circled?

Children are literal, and if you ask them what they want for Christmas they may decide they want ALL THE THINGS. And once they’ve asked for it, their expectation is that they’re going to get it.

Don’t leave it so open-ended for them.

Instead of encouraging my kids to add everything in their wildest dreams to their Christmas list, I try to get them to think of a few things they truly want. We’ll write down a list of 3. Then when they see a commercial for a blanket in the shape of a shark that they just HAVE to have, I’ll refer back to their list and ask which thing they want to replace. Typically they look at the list and within moments the shark blanket is no longer a necessity.

2. Be upfront when the answer is no

Call me a mean mom all you want, but there are some things I’m just not going to give my child even if it’s the only thing he wants for Christmas. I don’t want my kids to have video games, so if they beg for an Xbox I know it’s not going to happen. Same thing goes for a puppy. (I already have 4 kids who act like animals, so as far as pets go- just no.)

It is better to disappoint your child on whatever random day they ask for these things rather than to disappoint them on Christmas morning. As soon as they mention something that off-limits for you, just be straightforward and tell them they won’t be getting that so they should choose something else. I like to be honest and give them the reason behind the no:

  • That is very expensive and we don’t spend that much on Christmas gifts.
  • Kids often get hurt using those toys so we won’t be playing with those at our house.
  • We don’t do video games because too much screen time isn’t good for kids.

“But Santa will get it for me!”

If your kid is smart they will try to pull the Santa card. We stick with the story that Santa knows all, including household rules. And Santa would never give a gift that breaks a household rule.

managing kids' expectations around the holidays
Sorry, son. Even if you’re on the nice list, Santa still won’t bring you a puppy.

3. Make it about giving

All of us parents hope our kids will get in the spirit of giving, but that’s not necessarily something that comes naturally for children. To shift their thinking from themselves to others, I make a concerted effort to individually plan out each kid’s  own Christmas shopping. Each one has a brainstorming session where they jot down ideas of what they think their family members will like, then we shop for it, they wrap it (with assistance) and make a card.

Whether they are spending their own money or not isn’t really the point, but the thought that goes into the gift is. It truly warms my heart to hear one of my children deliberate on which gift their sibling will like more. My 7 year old son once stood in Target for 15 minutes holding two My Little Ponies in his hands coming up with different reasons why his little sister would like one more than the other. When Christmas morning came, he watched her open that gift with more interest than you’d ever imagine a 7 year old boy can- all because he wanted to see her reaction.

We Moms take great joy in seeing our kids happy with their Christmas gifts, don’t deny them the same feeling of joy!

This year in addition to having our kids give gifts to their siblings, they will also be shopping for Grandma and Grandpa, their teachers, and children in need who put lists on the angel tree.

4. Focus on experiences

Prepare your kids in advance for how the holiday will go. Let them know they may or may not get all the presents they wanted, but they can be sure they’ll get to have a special day with family. Talk about how they’ll get to decorate Christmas cookies and leave some out for Santa. Get them planning what they’ll do with their cousins when they come to town.

Do you always watch a special Christmas movie? Or go to a religious service? Make handmade ornament to put on the tree? Incorporate your children’s ideas and preferences into these holiday traditions where you can. Build excitement around these experiences. When Mom is enthusiastic about something, the rest of the family will follow.

manage kids' expectations for the holidays
Family time together beats a gift grub any day

5. Don’t be afraid to keep it small

While we want Christmas to be a special time for our children, some kids just can’t handle all the hoopla. You know your kids and how much it takes for them to become overstimulated. Be mindful of their needs and plan accordingly. Sticking to their daily routine or giving them a secluded place for some quiet play on Christmas will prevent an epic meltdown.

Kids with past trauma, sensory issues, ADHD, autism, anxiety or a myriad of other issues especially will need some help getting through the holidays. This article Parenting Kids Who Sabotage Big Days offers more advice about keeping the holidays small and manageable for kids who can’t handle everything that goes along with a huge holiday.

With some advanced preparation, you can manage your kids’ expectations around the holidays and keep the spirit about love and togetherness instead of presents, presents, and more presents!



Disney Trip Day 1: Animal Kingdom (including Pandora- The World of Avatar)

For those who have been following, you know about the mother-daughter trip to Disney Tiana and I took in October. This is the trip report of our first day, which included traveling to Orlando, checking in to Saratoga Springs, and spending the rest of the day at Animal Kingdom. (Spoiler alert: we made it on both of the new rides in Pandora- the World of Avatar.)

Pre-trip planning

Since this was a special one on one trip for my daughter, I let her make a lot of the decisions in the planning. We only had three days, so I told her to pick three parks. Her original choices were Magic Kingdom for the Halloween party, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot.

As everyone who has planned a trip to Disney World knows, a lot of advanced planning goes into these trips. So I was a little thrown off when one day Tiana saw a commercial featuring Pandora- The World of Avatar and wanted to change our plans to include a day at Animal Kingdom! I rolled with it as best I could and set to out get us Fast Passes for at least one of the two Avatar rides.

We both REALLY wanted to get a Fast Pass+ for Flight of Passage, having heard all the hype. I knew the standby lines were in excess of 3 hours so the only way we’d get to ride it would be with FP. Of course when I logged in at the 60 day mark, there were none available. I did get one for Na’vi River Journey, but I was definitely bummed that we didn’t get our first choice.

I thought about changing our plans back to Epcot once again. Then I remembered a time I had been in a similar FP conundrum before. A few years ago when people were waiting all day to meet Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall, Fast Passes were nearly impossible to get. I got in the habit of checking every day at different random times just in case anyone decided to let theirs go. About a week before the trip at 6am, I got one. I think the was the closest I’ve ever felt to winning the lottery!

Once again we were pixie dusted by the Fast Pass gods because a couple weeks before our trip I happened to check for Flight of Passage Fast Passes for our Animal Kingdom day and there they were. Tons of time slots magically opened up, indicating Disney had released a whole batch of new FPs. I really didn’t care about why, I was just so happy to know that we’d just scored the hottest ticket in town.


Our travel day started early, as we had to leave our house at 6am. Both of us were so excited about the trip that waking up early was no problem. It was too early for any traffic so it was smooth sailing to the airport.

Tiana was using her own piece of rolling luggage for the first time so she was enjoying feeling like a big person.

animal kingdom including Avatar

The flight was three hours of peace and quiet like we never get at home with the three younger kids. We both enjoyed our books and Tiana enjoyed coloring with some scented markers I had picked up for the flight.

Soon enough the plane landed and we made our way to Magical Express. The only noteworthy tidbit about this part of the journey is that we stopped to use the restroom and there was an ENORMOUS cockroach in one of the stalls. It scared Tiana so much that she’s basically sworn off using any airport bathrooms for the rest of her life.

There was no wait at all for our Magical Express and we arrived at Saratoga Springs before lunch time.

Checking in to Saratoga Springs

Arriving at our resort wasn’t quite as smooth as other Disney resort check ins I’ve had in the past. We had received a text that our room was not quite ready yet, so I thought we’d just leave our bags and get to the park. But we weren’t appropriately dressed for 80 degree Florida weather, so dropping our bags and running wasn’t exactly an option.

In addition to changing clothes, I also had to rearrange a lot of our stuff to turn our backpack full of flight entertainment into a park bag. Bell Services is right next to the entrance to the very busy lobby so opening my bags right there with people passing by was not very pleasant.

In the middle of all that, my phone buzzed and I saw that our room was now in fact ready. I quickly abandoned my bag re-packing mission to head to our room. A cast member pointed us in the direction of our room so we had a vague idea where we were going.

It ended up being a bit of a hike to our room, plus we got lost on the way there which made it even longer. I was feeling a little annoyed that the Cast Member hadn’t offered to help us with our luggage knowing how far the room was. The joy of carrying her own luggage had definitely worn off for Tiana by now.

I snapped this pic just before we went the wrong way and got totally lost:

Animal Kingdom including Avatar

Eventually some kind soul helped us and we got to our room. We changed and freshened up a little, packed our park bag and hopped on the bus to Animal Kingdom.

Finally at Animal Kingdom!

Animal Kingdom including avatar

I am infamous for taking crappy cell phone pictures, but HOW did I not notice that the “m” was cut off from Animal Kingdom in this photo???

We had some time to spare before our first FP, so we happily explored the park and some of the animal exhibits. We both love just wandering this park and taking in the cool vibe and energy it has. One of Tiana’s dreams is to visit Africa one day so she especially loves hanging out in that part of the park.

Pretty soon it was time for our Expedition Everest Fast Pass. Tiana was nervous about this one! Even though she likes roller coasters, she isn’t into the scary elements and she doesn’t particularly like going backwards.  She asked me if she HAD to ride it, and I told her no, she never has to ride anything. I did remind her though that this was our only day at Animal Kingdom and I wasn’t sure when we’d be back for another trip just to make sure she understood if we skip it she can’t change her mind tomorrow. She thought about it for a couple minutes and decided to give it a go.

In the past, this one has made me so motion sick I almost lost a whole day of touring. This time I was prepared and had taken Bonine for motion sickness so I was feeling confident!

The verdict on Everest? I think this face says it all:

animal kingdom including avatar

Tiana was NOT a fan! I would have enjoyed the ride except that she was screaming and maybe crying so I had to try my best to console her while my brain was getting rattled around. She told me she is NEVER going on it again, “not even if I bring my kids here and they beg me and beg me”. 😄

I’m pretty sure I got her a Mickey bar at this point to get her back in a good mood. It also helped that our next FP was for Kali River Rapids, which we both love.

It was mostly overcast that day, so Tiana decided she didn’t want to risk getting soaked on Kali. Luckily we were armed with these bad boys:

animal kingdom including avatar

We always end up laughing so much on this ride talking with the other people on our boat. Everyone knows a couple of us are going to get soaked and no one wants it to be them! The line wasn’t too long, about 20 minutes, so we rode it again standby since we had plenty of time on our hands.

Kali River Rapids Animal Kingdom
Photo credit:

Just a pic of the ride in case anybody isn’t familiar with it.

One little detail that will pop up again later in the trip: After riding Kali River Rapids in her poncho twice, Tiana went to take it off and it ripped all the way down the front. I considered it garbage at that point and threw it out, leaving us with just one poncho in our park bag.

Now I was getting super excited because we were finally headed somewhere I’d never been before…

Pandora- the World of Avatar

Disney does such an amazing job of transforming the mood when you switch from one land to another. Going over the bridge to Pandora you can feel a shift in the atmosphere. The sounds are different, the smell is different. It is hard to describe but we felt a certain mystical energy building.

We loved checking out all the little details and of course stopped for a pic of the floating mountains.

animal kingdom including avatar

Everywhere we looked, people were holding this brightly colored frozen drink with an enormous amount of kid appeal. Not surprisingly, Tiana suddenly couldn’t live another minute without one!

animal kingdom including avatar

The Night Blossom: aka the most Instagrammed beverage in Disney history!

Note the paper straw as plastic straws are not allowed at Animal Kingdom (dangerous for the animals).

I thought this drink would be so overly sweet that we wouldn’t be able to finish it between the two of us. Well those fears were unfounded because we CRUSHED it.

By now it was time for the moment I had been waiting for. Time to ride Flight of Passage!

It almost felt wrong cruising by in the Fast Pass lane with people waiting an estimated 3 hours to ride. Almost.

The indoor portion of the line is like a dark, cement cave. Very industrial. I’m sure it’s authentic to the movie but I only saw it once and don’t remember these details!

I had purposely avoided reading much about this ride prior to our trip. I wanted to go in with no expectations. All I can say after riding it is WOW. Whatever expectations I had were blown away!

The guy in front of me in line had warned me that it was “intense” but I wasn’t really getting it. After experiencing it, that really is the best description for it.

In fact it was a little too intense for Tiana, she was screaming her face off the whole time!

It turns out, she believed every word of the pre-show and was convinced an Avatar was going to come take over her body. She thought the whole thing was 100% real. So that kicks up the intensity to a whole other level.

Dinner time

After Flight of Passage Tiana was suddenly very interested in going on Na’vi River Journey. I had to sacrifice the original FP I had gotten for it in order to book the Flight of Passage FP since you can only get one. So I had mentally crossed this ride off my list since I knew the line would be majorly inflated. We walked over to check anyway and it was about two hours. I was not interested in waiting that long so I told her we could come back at night and see if the line was down then.

Moderately satisfied with that answer, Tiana decided to head over towards Dinoland. We mostly just browsed shops and watched street acts, whatever Tiana was interested in. We passed by character spots but Tiana chose not to meet them, so I guess at 9 she is not as into meeting characters anymore. (She did end up changing her tune later in the trip so it wasn’t a completely character-less visit to WDW!)

Around 6:00 we made our way over to Rainforest Cafe, which Tiana had chosen for our dinner reservation.

animal kingdom including avatar

It’s probably not the restaurant I would have chosen, but I have to say we had an awesome time there.

With a family of 6 Tiana doesn’t get the chance to go to restaurants all that often. And going out to eat just me and her is something I’m pretty sure has never happened! Which is exactly why we needed this trip 👍

After we’d had our fill of animatronic animals, pretend thunderstorms, and lines of servers shouting “volcaaaaaaaano!”, we headed over to catch Rivers of Light.

Animal Kingdom by Night

It was starting to get dark as we passed by the Tree of Life.

Animal kingdom including avatar

I was excited to see Rivers of Light because I had never seen it before.

We were seated up near the front on the left side of the amphitheater. We watched the huge seating area fill up as we waited. I would never have guessed that many people were even in the park that day! Crowds are so different when spread throughout the park versus all in one place.

The show started and while we thought it was cool to see, we also kind of felt like we didn’t know what was going on 🤷

It also felt SUPER short! When it ended I was actually confused. It seemed like there should have been more. In future trips I think I won’t bother watching this one again.

(Just my honest opinion, I know some people love it!)

Back to Pandora

Being seated on the left was good because we were able to make our exit before most of the crowd. We walked with intent over to Pandora, since I had told Tiana we could check the wait time for Na’vi River Journey before park close.

The posted wait time was 90 minutes and I had told Tiana I was only willing to wait 60, but she talked to me into it.

I’m glad she did, because the wait ended up being just under an hour. And with friendly people to chat with in front of us in line it went by surprisingly quickly.

animal kingdom including pandora

The ride was very cool to look at with immersive theming from the movie. It was so serene and relaxing. We enjoyed it, but I’m glad I didn’t wait over an hour for it.

We exited the park right after riding as it was actually past closing time. Tiana was so happy after our long exciting day, she talked about it the whole bus ride back to Saratoga Springs. I went to bed that night so happy that I had decided to take this trip with her.

Next up…

Follow along with our trip as we head to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party on day 2!

5 Ways to Teach Your Kids While on Vacation

Disclosure: The following is a guest post in collaboration with CTI.

There’s no better time to teach your children than when on vacation. Traveling provides a very valuable experience with an abundance of knowledge on offer, whether you actively seek it or not.

If you want your little ones to learn as you travel, here are just five ways to make that happen.

Visit sites of historical importance

Perhaps the easiest and most straightforward way to teach the kids whilst traveling is by visiting the sites of historical importance. Whether it’s an ancient temple, a sprawling castle or even a museum, it’s crucial in allowing them to learn about the history of their destination.

It’s absolutely the easiest way to teach your children about your location – and perhaps you’ll learn something new along the way, too. Do some research before you head out there to see where the spots of historical value are, and take some time out of a day or two to go and explore.

Talk to the locals

There’s no better way to learn about your destination than conversing with locals. Whether it’s the staff in your accommodation, a waiter in a restaurant or even someone on the street, do not hesitate to ask them any questions you have – often, locals in foreign countries are friendly and approachable, always willing to lend a helping hand should they need to.

Talking to the locals will give you and your kids an authentic insight into the ways of life, including common cultural practices and current affairs you may have not known about.

Understand and embrace the culture

Talking of culture, it’s important your children understand the practices and norms of your destination. Whether it’s bowing as a greeting in Japan or paying respect to the Thailand national anthem twice a day, make sure you as a family are aware of just how to navigate the culture of whichever country you’re in.

It’s especially important if you’re planning on paying a visit to any places of cultural importance, such as a temple or religious complex. Cambodia’s Angkor Wat for example, despite indisputably becoming a tourist attraction above anything, is still used as a place of worship – so make sure you’re constantly respectful.

Consider having them read a book during the plane journey for that foundation of knowledge they can build upon once you arrive. It’ll be valuable to have them equipped with even a small amount of information before you even touch down.

Try the cuisine

It may sound like a casual activity rather than an opportunity for knowledge, but sampling the cuisine of your destination is one of the best ways to gain an appreciation and an understanding for the culture. Food is often a central part of life in many countries, so by delving into the local dishes you’ll be allowing your little ones to have an authentic experience.

Consider street food – it’s wildly popular around the world, what for its price and its deliciousness. From the blends of cuisine in Thailand to the fragrant dishes of India, be sure to encourage the kids to test themselves and try a thing or two.

Continue your world exploration

The best way to get your kids to learn something new about the world is by making travelling a regular activity. Sure, it’s sometimes not easily affordable – but by budgeting properly and planning your trips thoroughly, it’s easier than you may think. Teach your little ones about just how diverse and exciting the world can be and you’ll be providing them with valuable insights and knowledge early on in life, a valuable trait that they will be lucky to possess.

Best Gifts For Active Children

With holiday shopping time approaching, I thought I would put together a list of the best gifts for active children. I’d consider three of my kids “active”, and one of those “EXTREMELY active” so there is a wealth of personal experience behind these picks.

Along with being great energy outlets for kids, these toys are also durable. Chances are if your child is active, they aren’t exactly gentle on toys 😜

Best Gifts for Active Children


Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click one of the product links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  I have personally chosen each product in this post because of my own experience with the product and all opinions expressed herein are my own.



The Original Plasma Car: Twist, Turn, Wiggle

This was the star of Christmas the year we got it for our kids. You don’t move it with your feet, but by gently swiveling the “steering wheel” back and forth. We kept it as an indoor toy because my kids have a blast driving it forwards and backwards on the smooth hardwood floors. (Yes, Mom and Dad have been known to get on it too!)

Moluk Bilibo Red
Inspire open-ended, creative and active play with the super appealing Bilibo. (It’s like a kid magnet.) Kids love to sit in it, rock, and spin… and then they’ll come up with 100 other ways to play with it too.


Nylon Bean Bags Toy 12 pc

I originally bought these to use in a bean bag toss party game for one of my kid’s birthday parties. They loved the game so much they continued to re-enact it for months. Since then they’ve come up with lots of other ways to play with them, including various forms catch, homemade cornhole, and hot and cold.

Little Tikes 3′ Trampoline

The kids can bounce that energy away on this sturdy and strong classic kid’s trampoline. The handle bar is supposed to help them balance, but your kids will probably want to swing from it. Luckily this toy can take a beating.

Melissa & Doug Jumbo Extra-Thick Cardboard Building Blocks

Kids use their whole bodies when building with blocks this big. And their jumbo size creations are that much more gratifying to knock down after they’re done.


Goda Anti-Burst Inflatable Massage Yoga Exercise Ball

Any exercise ball will do the trick when you need to occupy an active child, but kids who crave sensory input will especially love the nubby texture of this one. My son had one at his occupational therapist’s office and couldn’t get enough of it.

Pro Tip: When the child is done bouncing and it’s time to relax, have them lie down on their belly while you roll the ball over their body, applying some pressure. The nubs will make this feel like a gentle massage.


Little Tikes EasyScore Basketball Set

I love toys that grow with your child. Both my 1 year old and my almost 8 year old love playing basketball with this toy! It’s a staple in our playroom and won’t be leaving there for years to come.

Thick Gymnastics Tumbling Exercise Folding Mats

Of all the active toys we have in our house, these simple gymnastics mats get the most use by FAR. If you need a place in your house that’s safe for kids to crash and throw their bodies around, just clear some space and throw one of these mats down. My daughter also practices her gymnastics on these, but for the most part they are used for kids just going nuts!

ETA hand2mind Blue Plastic Scooter with Handles

Just like those scooters you used to play with in gym class but with handles so you don’t run over your fingers. Let kids scoot around on their bottom or laying on their belly for different vestibular input.

Slippery Racer Downhill Xtreme Winter Toboggan Snow Sled – Red

If you’re unlucky enough to live somewhere that gets snow in the winter, there is no better way to tire out an active kid than sledding! Let them run up and sled down that hill all day and you can bet on a good night’s sleep after.

Looking for more gift ideas for all different types of kids in your life? Check out these awesome gift guides from some of my favorite blogs:

Paper Heart Family has The Ultimate Gift Guide for the Creative Child

From Applecart Lane, 20 Toys that Encourage Learning

The Salty Mamas’ Gifts for the Kid Who Has Everything

And from This Mom Life, 10 Gifts that will Calm Down and Relax Your Kid

Our fall in crappy cell phone pics

It’s been way too long since I captioned our crappy cell phone pics. The pics from September and October are still just as crappy as ever 😀 A lot of these are from my Halloween Disney trip with Tiana.


funny kid pics

The first day of school at our house


funny kid picsLuca channels his inner Taylor Swift: “Look what you made me do.”


funny kid pics

My daughter’s response when I asked her if I was her best friend.


funny kid pics

I’m not sure what Z was trying to write, but now I feel scared and keep checking for buobe crapps.


That face your kid gives you when you’ve told him there’s no more cookies and he catches you in a lie.


funny kid pics

Text from the husband while I’m away: “Are they allowed to be doing this ?”


funny kid pics

Zari misheard the photographer saying “smile” as “make sure to completely hide your upper lip.”


funny kid pics

Why did no one tell me that a $5 fidget spinner would delight and entertain my child for 2.5 hours? I would have sprung for the 50 pack.


funny kid pics

Why does this precious photo of Grandpa and Luca remind me of the start of an America’s Funniest Home Video clip?


File this one under “things parents let their kids do in the 80s that can get CPS called on you now”.


We never promote violence in our household. Except for that one toy where you get to make your favorite superheroes punch each other in the face until they fall over.

If you like finding glitter in your omelette 12 days after the fact, this face paint is for you.


I warned the kids this would happen if they woke up in the middle of the night one more time.


When your kid gets this happy about mixing candy it’s kind of like you could have skipped the trip to Disney and just taken them to that sketchy local movie theater.


When your mom brings you on a ride you absolutely hate and then forces you to pose for a picture in front of it.


 Thank you Disney for making the most Instagram-able beverage I’ve ever encountered.


Apparently the husband can’t take constructive criticism, because he didn’t appreciate me telling him I found a shirt with his picture on it.


When you’re trying to be in character but you just look extremely nauseated (T) and like you just soiled your pants (me).


Luca’s entire trick-or-treating loot. Pro tip: Don’t give your toddler a bag to collect candy. Each house they go to, they’ll drop the two pieces they have in their hands and take two more pieces.


Who else thinks we should make a petition to move Halloween to summer? Half the country can’t see anybody’s costumes under their winter coats!


If looking at my family pics makes you feel better about your parenting, check out my other posts in the series:

Our Family Vacation In Crappy Cell Phone Pics

Our Summer Week In Crappy Cell Phone Pics

The Original Our Week In Crappy Cell Phone Pics