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267: How to Survive and Thrive During the Holidays

Even the most joyous holiday events disrupt routines. Getting together with family and friends, sitting down for extra-long meals, and observing rituals and traditions are all out of the ordinary. Of course your kiddos might have a hard time knowing how they’re supposed to behave. They need you to step up as pack leader even more than usual, to set expectations, communicate expectations, and make a plan to keep things on the rails. This classic episode will help you get into that mindset, and give you the tools to implement it.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  1. Why it’s extra important to embrace your role as pack leader during holiday gatherings.
  2. How to anticipate your frustrating habits and turn them into a sanity-saving game.
  3. Ways to help your children understand what’s expected of them, and to help yourself stay empathetic and supportive when they make mistakes.

And much more! 

As always, thanks for listening. Head over to Facebook, where you can join my free group Mastermind Parenting Community. We post tips and tools and do pop-up Live conversations where I do extra teaching and coaching to support you in helping your strong-willed children so that they can FEEL better and DO better. If you enjoyed this episode and think that others could benefit from listening, please share it!


About Randi Rubenstein

Randi Rubenstein helps parents with a strong-willed kiddo become a happier family and enjoy the simple things again like bike rides and beach vacays.

She’s the founder of Mastermind Parenting, host of the Mastermind Parenting podcast, and author of The Parent Gap. Randi works with parents across the U.S.

At Mastermind Parenting, we believe every human deserves to have a family that gets along.

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[00:00:00] Randi Rubenstein: My name is Randi Rubenstein, and welcome to the Mastermind Parenting Podcast. At Mastermind Parenting, we’re on a mission to support strong-willed kids and the families that love them. 

[00:00:10] I want to coach you guys on all the things you’re worried about when it comes to the holidays. We’re going to be focused on Thanksgiving and all things Thanksgiving. That’s kind of the theme that I wanted to teach you guys a couple of helpful tools. Um, so just know things I’m teaching today, you can also apply to the winter holidays as well. 

[00:00:33] So the way I have found when I teach you guys things. So that I’m not just talking at you. Um, I want you to take a pen to paper and when I prompt you to, to really think about something and to have a reflection, I want you to write it down for yourself.

[00:00:52] Okay, so we have to be intentional. I just, when I was just recording this podcast episode, um, with this guy today, we were talking about how you set an intention, you know, you set an attention before an experience. 

[00:01:09] So we want to set some intentions for the holidays. Okay. So if you think about the holiday season, why is it important to you to have a good holiday? You know, this season or really any season, why is it important? Holidays and rituals represent something pretty important. It’s like a whole life can happen. But when we have these anchored moments, oh yeah, that Thanksgiving, remember when grandma, you know, farted at the table? Or whatever it is, but like, these are the moments that create a life where we have these anchors to kind of grab onto.

[00:02:01] And I think it’s like, why do we want this to be a beautiful holiday? Because we want our kids to have good memories. We want them to think back on their childhood and with fondness. Right? Like even when it’s something ridiculous, like grandma farting at the table. But we really, it’s like, we want to have these rich family experiences because we want our kids to look back on their childhoods and to remember things and to, and, and for it to be a sweet memory. Right. For it to be a sweet memory. 

[00:02:35] And right. Like family’s important. Like, why is that important to us for our kids to have beautiful holidays with family? Well, we want them to know they’re rooted in family. This is where they come from. These are the people they come from. These are the people that love them. These are the people that have their back, right? That helps to shape their identity. We want them to have beautiful family memories. And it might not be that beautiful if grandma farts at the table, but it’s still kind of beautiful because it’s hilarious, and laughing is joy. You know, it’s, we want joy filled memories. 

[00:03:18] And I think it’s important for us to kind of dissect that out of it and to understand why setting an intention is so important because I think it helps us not to get mired down in the moment when your kid’s like, uh, this turkey is gross, you know, or whatever it is that they say, and you’re like, no, you didn’t. 

[00:03:40] Don’t worry. I’m going to have a tool that helps you to stay and be relaxed. Even during those moments where your kid says that thing that you were just hoping they weren’t going to say, or does that thing that you were just hoping they weren’t going to do.

[00:03:55] When we get mired down in the just hoping it all goes smoothly, I think it’s like we forget about the joy. We can kind of just skim over it. But when we come into it with a sense of pack leadership and we have a plan in place. And we’re very intentional about it. So we’re talking about these things before. 

[00:04:20] In a couple of days, we’re going to be going for Thanksgiving or we’re going to be hosting Thanksgiving and everybody’s going to be coming over and it’s going to be kind of a hectic day. You know, if you’re hosting, it’s going to be kind of a hectic day. So let’s have a plan so we can all contribute to the day, right? 

[00:04:37] Like that’s what a good pack leader does. They don’t just like wait for the day of and then hope that nothing goes wrong. It’s like, no, we’re talking about it ahead of time. We’re setting it up. We’re excited about it. We’re planning. I just had a Mastermind mom the other day saying that her and her daughter stayed up late the other night because they were planning their pies. Like all of those moments are beautiful memories. 

[00:05:00] And when we do any, this is what I’ve learned the older I get because I am not always the best planner or systems person, at all. To say I’m not the best is really being kind to myself because I really suck at it. Um, but anytime you talk about something and have a plan ahead of time, it’s just not stressful, right? Like, it just takes the stress element out of it. You’re just, you, you feel like you’re in the driver’s seat of your brain.

[00:05:30] So I want you to think about what is your favorite holiday memory as a kid? Okay. When it comes to either a special Thanksgiving memory or a special Christmas or Hanukkah memory, um, or whatever it is that you, you know, if you celebrate a different holiday, um, what is a special memory that stands out to you as a kid?

[00:06:01] Like my mom’s stuffing. I’m about to send my 21 year old daughter. She’s doing Friendsgiving and at college. And I was like, oh, you got to make Mimi’s stuffing. It’s the best. You know, my mom’s stuffing is my favorite Thanksgiving memory. It’s delicious. I look forward to it all year long.

[00:06:22] Um, so, what is your memory? It could be a food. It could be, you know, for my kids, we get together with extended family and with my youngest son, that’s when he’s with two of his cousins that are his age and it’s just cousin. He just gets to be alone with his cousins and it’s a whole day and then they have cousins sleep over and that’s his special thing.

[00:06:49] Maybe it was stressful. You felt your parents’ stress and so the holidays don’t have such a special memory for you. And so therefore you, it’s, you’re really determined to create a different type of memory for your kids. So it might be that, you know, I don’t have many holiday, you know, great holiday memories and I want to do it differently for my kids.

[00:07:13] Now if you think about a memory where you experienced some disappointment. You know, maybe it’s that it wasn’t such like my family never did that whole watching football, playing football. You know, I remember watching shows, like, I think I watched an L uh, an episode of Parenthood and like on a Thanksgiving, they’re all cooking together and they’re watching tv, they’re watching the, you know, the sports and they’re, you know, throwing a football, and it’s not just the boys throwing a football. Everyone played football, and I’m like, that’s so fun. I want that. I didn’t grow up with that. 

[00:07:54] What are you hoping to impart on your kids this Thanksgiving? So hard, right? It’s actually easier to say the things we don’t want than the things we do want. Fun with family. Right? Fun with family. I mean, for me, I think a lot of us, and maybe I’m speaking out of turn, I don’t know if you guys can agree or disagree with me, like, I want to be a childhood magic maker.

[00:08:21] I came to this adulthood table feeling like I didn’t have the most magical childhood. I saw, I watched a lot of shows and family, fictional families, and it seemed like they were having some, those kids were having some magical childhoods, but mine didn’t feel so magical. And so I, I had a secret dream. I wasn’t aware of it, but it drove so much of what I did, I think, because I was like, I want my kids to experience that magic. 

[00:08:54] Like I sort of wanted to live vicariously through them or I’m really, really honest. I wanted to be the parent that gave my kids a magical childhood because I was going to be, you know, I was proving something. Which, that got in the way a lot of the time. Because I wanted it too bad. It came across as graspy. Are you having fun? Are you having fun? Are you having fun? They’re like, relax, 

[00:09:16] relax. Relax. So. You know, really thinking, this is all going into defining your intention. 

[00:09:28] Now, what gets in the way of the magical memories? Quite often, how many of you identify with judgy relatives or the perception of judgy relatives? Maybe you’ve got picky eating kids and you’re not sure if they’re going to eat anything and they don’t always have the best manners and you know that aunt so and so or grandma or whoever is going to be looking at your kids or maybe they fight with other kids a lot and you’re worried they’re going to be mean to their cousins.

[00:10:00] Judgy Mother-in-Law, right? Judgy Mother-in-Law, right? So we, it’s like we were so scared of that judgment, or that perceived judgment. Here’s a little spoiler alert for you guys. Everybody who has a judgy, somebody in your life, all judgment is actually a self projection. So if that judging Mother-in-law is judging your kids and judging you as a mom, I promise you she judges the hell out of herself and she actually doesn’t think she did that great of a job and she’s looking for evidence for other people who might be screwing it up even more than her or just as much to make herself feel better. Judgment is always, it really is about the person judging. 

[00:10:52] Um, and I get it when those little shitty comments come your way. It sucks. Nobody wants that. Nobody wants to deal with that. So, Are you worried that your kid’s going to do something and you’re going to be embarrassed of their behavior, right? You’re going to be embarrassed of your kid’s behavior. You’re going to be embarrassed if your kid acts like a kid. 

[00:11:18] And you know, or if you have a, a kid that has a lot of strong willed behavior and is difficult for you a lot, or gets in trouble at school a lot, probably a decent likelihood that they’re going to be displaying some of those less than ideal behaviors with all of the relatives and the onlookers. And then you’re going to feel like they’re all judging you because of your kid’s less than ideal behavior.

[00:11:47] I think it’s important to identify it because then, when it shows up, you’re kind of expecting it and you can have a plan in place how to deal with it. Right? So identify what is the thing, like if you think worst case scenario. Worst case scenario, this happens.

[00:12:07] Chris: I guess my, uh, worst case scenario we’re having Thanksgiving at my sister in law’s house, her and her husband don’t have kids yet. Um, so she’s like, oh, I’ve got a kid’s table. And I’m like, kid proofing the loft and all this stuff. And I don’t know what that means, what she thinks that means. Um, and I just, and Avery is like the badger and like high energy. And I, I guess worst case scenario is that he doesn’t want to sit at the table because they’re very much like classic, like dinner setting, everyone’s sitting down. And with little kids, that’s not, that’s not the case. Um, they’re all over the place. So my worst case scenario would just be that Avery like melts down and just the whole like shit just hits the fan. That’s really… 

[00:13:04] Randi Rubenstein: Okay. We know that it is going to be difficult for Avery to sit for an extended period of time at the table. Okay. and what about eating? Do you feel like he’ll, is he, will he eat the food or is, or not so much?

[00:13:25] Chris: Um, somewhat he’ll most likely just eat the dinner rolls all night. Um, which is fine. That’s another thing that Chris and I have both been vocal about when they bring it up of like, eat your food, eat your food. And we’re like, just eat what you can, bud. Like, we just kind of make that like a very, not kind of passive aggressive, like eat what your body tells you you want to eat, um, in front of my in laws. Um, so food is kind of a touch and go. He might eat it. He might not. 

[00:13:57] Randi Rubenstein: Okay. So, do you think that it’s necessary for Avery to sit at the table as long as the adults sit at the table? 

[00:14:09] Chris: I personally don’t. 

[00:14:11] Randi Rubenstein: Okay. 

[00:14:12] Chris: It’s much easier if he’s not sitting there. 

[00:14:14] Randi Rubenstein: Okay. So, so who is the actual pack leader of your child? 

[00:14:20] Chris: Me and my husband.

[00:14:22] Randi Rubenstein: Yeah. So you’re, you’ve come, you’re going to be gracious guests. You don’t have to cook the meal. They’re doing all the things you get to show up. Let me tell you, I host a lot of holidays. It’s a wonderful thing to get to go and be the guest and just show up. And so. What does a gracious guest truly do to be gracious?

[00:14:47] Chris: just offer help if I can. Um… 

[00:14:52] Randi Rubenstein: They don’t let their five year old hijack the meal. 

[00:14:55] Chris: Yeah. 

[00:14:56] Randi Rubenstein: Take up all the air in the room. Okay. And, and, and so if you’re focused, let’s just say your intention is to be a gracious guest. Um, and by being a gracious guest, I show up as the pack leader of my children. I got two little kids. We’re in a busy season of life. What they think I should or shouldn’t be doing is their business. 

[00:15:27] What I actually do to make sure that I stay intentional and I show up as a gracious guest is my business. 

[00:15:37] And to show up as a gracious guest. I got to make sure that I set my kid up for success. And what I know is that he may just eat dinner rolls. Okay. I’m cool with that. He may only be able to sit at the table for five minutes. Okay. What is he doing when he’s not sitting at the table? 

[00:16:04] Chris: Probably running around, jumping off couches and acting like he was raised in a barn. 

[00:16:13] Randi Rubenstein: So how are we going to offset that and not allow that to happen? Because a gracious guest is not going to let their kid, they’re going to set, they’re going to let their kid know from the very beginning, even way before we go there, these are the expectations. 

[00:16:27] We’re showing up to aunt so and so’s house and we’re going to have Thanksgiving and you’re going to get in there. And this time there’s going to be another kid there, which is going to be super awesome and fun. And so I just want to let you know kind of how it’s going to go.

[00:16:43] We’re going to go. We’re all going to hang. You guys are going to be able to run around. We’ll watch you outside. You’ll get to, you know, check it all out. I think they have kind of a cool backyard or whatever it is. And then you’ll run around. 

[00:16:58] And then when it’s time to eat, we’ll wash our hands and then we’re going to get our plates of food and we’re going to come, and we’re going to sit down and we’re going to eat our meal. We’re going to put our napkins on our lap, push our chairs in. 

[00:17:13] And after we eat, we’re going to look at the host and, and make sure and say like, thank you so much. That was delicious. Because when somebody makes you food, it’s really, it’s really lovely. And so we’re going to say, thank you. That was delicious. 

[00:17:29] And then when you’ve been sitting too long enough that your body wants to. Be away from the table. You’re going to whisper to me, mommy, mommy, may I be excused? And I, I’m going to say, sure, let me get you, let me help you get set up. Because when all the adults are still eating, it’s going to be quiet activities time. 

[00:17:54] And so we’re going to bring a little bag and I’m going to have some special things in there that maybe you haven’t seen. And you know, we’re going to put, you have some, some, you know, crayons and some mazes and some different things, maybe a few little new little toys to play with or whatever to share with your cousin and to play. And we’re going to and I’m going to be okay with you doing some quiet activities close by. 

[00:18:23] And then when the adults are finished and we, we help clear the table and we ask how we can be helpful because that’s what, that’s what you do when you’re a gracious guest. Then it’ll be time to get to run around outside and play again and either me or dad or, or, you know, or uncle so and so or aunt so and so, we’ll always make sure an adult’s with you guys to supervise and then it’ll be time to go and run around and play again.

[00:18:52] Is it, what about running around and playing or jumping on things inside the house on the furniture? What do you think about that? And if he’s like, I think it sounds great, you know, just be like, I know we’re kind of loosey goosey about that stuff in our house, but when we go to other people’s houses, a lot of people don’t want you, you know, doing that in their house and so we got to really respect the rules of the household. So I think it’s really important for you to remember bottoms go on the furniture. You can sit on the furniture and running around in the house, especially when you got too many, it’s just, it makes it too crazy. So you can run around outside. Inside, we’ll have a special bag for you to do the quiet activities when you want to be, you know, it’s a, so remind me what happens when we get there.

[00:19:41] And see, we established the rules. We, what we are doing is we’re setting expectations. We’re, we’re letting him know the boundaries involved. It’s not okay to run around in the house. But instead of just like, we’re letting him know what he can do, where he can run around, where he can expect to run around, how the night’s going to go. We’re taking the uncertainty out of it. 

[00:20:03] Chris: Okay. 

[00:20:04] Randi Rubenstein: And we’re going to be repeating it and we’re going to be going over it. 

[00:20:07] See what happens here. This this pack leadership plan is, we’re putting so much bandwidth on the front end. So we’re not crossing our fingers and hoping that it goes well. We’re setting it up to go well. He knows exactly what to expect. 

[00:20:26] And if all of a sudden he forgets and he starts running around, you or your husband are going to go over to him. You’re going to take him, you’re going to pick him up and you’re going to take him outside and you’re going to say, buddy, it seemed like you forgot the rules about the running around inside. Do you need to move your body for a few minutes? 

[00:20:46] I’m still eating. I’m still at the table. I’m almost done. Do you need to do a few loops and then we can go back inside. It’s okay. You just forgot. You’re a little kid. You’re learning. Your behavior so far has been beautiful. You’ve been such a gracious guest. I hope you feel proud. 

[00:21:05] See? So if he starts to take up all the air in the room, hijack the household, ruin the holiday for other people, we’re going to reign it in quickly. You show up with that plan, you’ve talked about it ad nauseum. Set them up for success. 

[00:21:25] You’ve also sold it a little bit. Like it’s going to be so much fun. Normally you’ve been the only kid. Now you got baby brother there. Yeah. Now you got a cousin there. Like this is going to be a real, and we’re going to, and we’re going to have the special quiet activities bag. And I bet your cousin’s going to be so excited that there’s going to be some really fun things for you guys to do and play with. I’m not worried about you, bud. We’re gonna have so much fun.

[00:21:52] You know, look, your pack leadership, it has improved so much. And you just have to, you have to manage the sentences in your, like, he’s gonna, he’s gonna ruin it. He’s going to ruin it for other people. And it’s like, if we shifted that sentence to, I’m going to ruin it for other people. Yeah. If you don’t show up in this way, you are going to ruin it for other people because you’re not going to be the pack leader your kid needs you to be in those moments. 

[00:22:17] Chris: Yeah. 

[00:22:18] Randi Rubenstein: No, you’re not going to ruin it. You’re cool and awesome and with it, and you’re capable and you’re like, I got this. And I don’t have to cook a damn thing, you know, or I have to cook one thing and bring it like this is not the way it’s always going to be. I’m kind of getting, you know, uh, an off the hook card because I got two little kids. I I’m milking the hell out of this. 

[00:22:42] My favorite tool to use during the holidays or really anytime, but it’s especially hilarious during the holidays is my, But Of Course They Did tool. If you’re traveling to visit family or all of a sudden getting together with family that you don’t get together with all the time, you know, it’s almost like we get temporary amnesia like we do during childbirth. It’s like all of a sudden if you have multiple children and you’re in, you’re in childbirth, you’re like, how did I forget childbirth? terrible this is. Um, and we get that amnesia, right? 

[00:23:21] So we just forget, we forget. And it’s what the mind does to sort of like, you know, recover. It’s like we lived in how awful something was. Um, we would never do certain things again. So our brain plays tricks on us. 

[00:23:36] So 

[00:23:37] we get temporary amnesia when we’re around people that we know very well, because guess what? Mom’s gonna mom. And Dad’s gonna dad. All the ways that Mom mommed that drove you crazy and I mom that drives my kids crazy and, you know, you’ve got their numbers. People are who they are and mother in law is going to mother in law and and sister in law is gonna sister in law. Right? And all of it. And your crazy nephew is going to crazy nephew. People are going to show up exactly as they are, and as they do. 

[00:24:22] And where the real stress intention comes from is we argue with reality that it should be different. 

[00:24:29] We should all over ourselves. We have manuals for people. Even though mom has given her disapproving look or said, you know, made comments like, really want a second piece of chocolate pie, whatever it is. Um, even though, you know, this is who they’ve always been. You argue with reality that they should be different and that’s where so much tension comes in.

[00:25:07] But what if, okay, I know this is a crazy radical idea. What if we just expected mom to mom and sister in law to sister in law and, and yada, yada, yada. What if we just expected it? What if we gamified it? What if we turned it in to something kind of fun that we could laugh about later?

[00:25:31] So the, But Of Course They Did tool is, you’re just sort of looking for those moments and you’re sort of keeping a tally in your head and you have an accountability buddy. So maybe your accountability buddy is your sister or your husband or your brother, right? Like me and my siblings do this all the time with stuff with my dad, right? But of course he lied about this thing. And then when we called him on it, he denied it and changed the subject. But of course. 

[00:26:07] Oh, my gosh. Oh, wait, wait till you hear this one. No, no, no, no, no. That’s nothing. I’m going to top you, right? Like I, I, I got you and I’m going to raise you because listen, listen to this But Of Course They Did. Then when I was, you know, coming out of the bathroom and I was pulling up my pants, you know, right? I wasn’t even like finished and She was waiting for me right after and she said this thing or he did this thing. 

[00:26:38] So you kind of gamify and you gamify it by playing the, But Of Course They Did game. And so pick your accountability, buddy, you know, explain to them the way the game works and, um, and then have some fun with it. And it will totally change how you feel when you have these But Of Course They Did moments. Instead of getting all worked up, it’s like, you’ve got content, you know, it’s like, you’ve got hilarious content.

[00:27:10] Thanks for listening today, guys. I hope you picked up some tips, tools, maybe some baby steps for creating more balance and boundaries in your life. And I just wanted to let you know, if you want to continue moving the needle forward in creating this for yourself, having a happier household, I want you to go to my website and check out We have three beginning programs, and if you need some accountability and more support then please look for the one that would be a good fit for you.

[00:27:44] And, as always, we’re on all the social channels under mastermind parenting, on Instagram it’s mastermind_parenting. And, you know, periodically I do pop up on different Instagram lives, Facebook lives where I give you teaching and coaching and I love engaging with you live to help you help your strong-willed kids so that they can feel better, because when they feel better they do better, and I love, love, love getting to know you guys. 

[00:28:17] So thanks for listening. If you like this podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe, rate and review. Super super appreciative

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