7 Things To Say To Kids To Help Them Feel Safe During Holiday Gatherings, According To A Child Therapist

This magical time of year can also be hard for kids.

family gathered around table for holiday celebration Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock

The holiday season is here, and it's hard to not get excited, especially if there are children in your life. The twinkling lights, lists for Santa, the anticipation of seeing dear friends and family make many of us feel delighted.

But underneath the glittery surface of it all can be a heavy load of stress surrounding the duty to meet expectations, even for kids. When we go to holiday gatherings and are confronted by the presence of numerous imposing faces, it can feel overwhelming to just about anyone.


As parents, you create a sense of safety for your child during this holiday season with just a little preparation. Child therapist Jess VanderWier outlines seven effective things you can say to make your kids feel safe during the holidays.

7 Things To Say To Kids To Help Them Feel Safe At Holiday Gatherings

  1. "Sit with me as long as you need. I know you’ll go play when you are ready."
  2. "How do you feel after our time at —s house?"
  3. "What do you love most about being a kid during the holidays?"
  4. "If anything makes you uncomfortable or confused, come tell me."
  5. "You are allowed to say yes or no to hugs from any family members."
  6. "Your job is to be a kid! You get to go laugh, have fun, and play!"
  7. "Do you need a little break? There’s a lot going on in this room right now."

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Kids deserve to feel safe, especially during the holidays.

The hustle and bustle of the holidays can be quite challenging for parents. Amidst the flurry of cooking, cleaning, and orchestrating festive activities, it’s easy to lose sight of your children and their needs. But it’s crucial to cut out time to spend with your children.

Imagine how intimidating it must feel, to be surrounded by a sea of faces, old and new. Even as an adult, it can be very intimidating to be in a room full of strangers. So, offer a seat to your child and let them know that they can go play when they are ready to.

Speaking of ready, most children will let their guard down when surrounded by the warmth of their family and friends — and this is understandable because they haven’t seen them in so long!


But during the buzz of festive cheer, do not forget to check in with your children about their comfort levels, especially when spending time at someone else’s house.

Most abusers know the child they are harming.

Indiana Center for Prevention of Youth Abuse and Suicide reveals that over 90% of abusers are people that children know, love, and trust, with 30-40% of victims being abused by their family members. They also reveal that 50% of children are abused by someone outside of their family that they know. Despite popular belief, holidays aren’t always jolly.

Monique Burr Foundation for Children notes, “Sexual abuse increases during the holidays when kids are often left with babysitters, there are guests staying in the home, and parents are often distracted.” As disturbing as this may be, arming yourself with this knowledge can help you take extra precautions.


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Teaching kids about consent is crucial.

If you aren’t sure how to protect your child’s safety, educate them about consent. Ellen Spiese, LMFT, stresses the importance of teaching children the correct language when describing their body parts and that saying no is not only okay but should be respected as well.


Even more vital is modeling boundaries to your kids.

Using phrases such as, “Please respect my body,” when your own personal space is invaded will help your children understand the importance of boundaries. And even though this may be hard to remember at all times, boundaries should be enforced no matter what.

RELATED: 5 Ways We Violate Our Children's Boundaries Without Even Realizing It


Allowing kids to set boundaries is important.

If your child doesn't want to hug a family member, you as a parent must advocate for them, says therapist Amanda Robinson. Think about it. If you were forced to hug someone you did not want to hug you would be understandably upset and frustrated.

Instead of pushing your child to give hugs, suggest they give a high five, wave, or just say hi instead. Your guest won't think your child is being rude and your child can feel safe and comfortable during the encounter. It’s a win-win!

This advice doesn't apply solely to family and friends. Children’s boundaries and autonomy should constantly be respected.


How many times have you seen a fussy toddler screaming no, while their parents force them to sit on Santa’s lap? Let’s be real, simple holiday traditions such as taking photos with Santa, can be a huge discomfort for children.

Instead of insisting your child sit on Santa’s lap, respect their boundaries. Robinson suggests offering some alternative ideas, such as standing next to Santa instead.



Parental stress during the holidays impacts children, too.


According to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at University of Michigan Health, “One in four parents admit they set overly idealistic expectations, and mothers are twice as likely to be stressed by preparations.”

holiday stressors

And it makes sense, you are surrounded by holiday cheer, and you want your children to experience that as well. But your stress can diminish your children’s joy during the holidays.


”Instead of assuming what your child wants, have an open conversation with them. Ask them, 'What do you love most about being a kid during the holidays,'" says VanderWier. You may be surprised at how simple the answer is.

Children may need reminders to slow down and play.

Finally, remind your children that it is okay to have fun and play, and remind them that they can take breaks when they are overstimulated.

By allowing them to take breaks, you are ensuring that their holiday experience remains both positive and memorable.

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Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor's degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics.