Set Behavior Expectations in Advance for Holidays

Bring out the best in your child during the holiday season with a few up-front guidelines.
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Set behavior expectations in advance so all can be present with friends and family.

The holiday season can lead many of us to feel warm and fuzzy. It can also breed stress and pressure especially when it comes to spending time with extended family. Whether you are hosting or attending a holiday feast, the last thing you want to do is spend the entirety of the event correcting your child’s behavior. Here are some ways to prepare your child for those special holiday meals so you can be present with loved ones.

Create a Visual Timetable

There is a reason that elementary classrooms create a daily schedule. A visual timetable reminds kids when activities will begin and end, when they get breaks and show them a preview of what’s to come.

Include the answers to commonly asked questions:

  • How long is the event?
  • How many people will be there?
  • Who will I know? Who won’t I know?
  • Is the physical environment drastically different?
  • What activities can I do if I feel bored and where can I go to play?

Set Clear Expectations in Advance

Discuss the do’s and don’ts beforehand and prioritize the top three expectations so they are easy for your child to remember.

For example:

  • What does a warm greeting look and sound like?
  • What can you say if you would like to speak when other people are talking?
  • What are appropriate ways to communicate that you want to leave the table or use the bathroom?
  • What ways must your child help or how long will they be expected to spend quality time with guests before taking a break?
  • How many minutes of screen time are allowed?

Create a Secret Hand Signal

Develop a hand signal with your child that communicates they should make a different choice if not meeting the expectations.

A secret hand signal or gesture prevents you from having to leave a quality conversation while managing to communicate that your child needs to correct their behavior.

Establish Rewards and Consequences

Sit down and discuss what reward they will earn for meeting the three expectations, and the privilege that will be taken away if they don’t meet the expectations.

For example:

  • If they are not meeting the expectation and they correct their behavior after one use of the secret hand signal, they can earn a reward.
  • If you need to use the hand signal more than three times throughout the event, they will receive a consequence.

Give Your Child a Special Task

Children get bored and benefit from breaks. Give them something to be in charge of or a physical job so they have something to do.

Give Thanks

When you notice a positive behavior, provide specific feedback to reinforce it.

For example:

  • I like how you warmly greeted Aunt Sue.
  • I like that you said, “Excuse me” before leaving the table.
  • I like how you offered to put the food away.


Here’s to a healthy and happy holiday season.