Holiday Tips for Dads and Kids

Year-end holidays can make wonderful experiences and memories for dads and kids. They can also be stressful, and whip by incredibly fast. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for making the most of your holiday.

1. Presence always trumps presents. More than any transient toy or other physical object, your kids crave your time and attention, so let them bask in your presence. If you’re a live-away dad, be with your children through personal communication and traditions (see below), rather than trying to “make up” for your situation with a flood of presents.

2. Give them a “Time Machine.” Instead of the latest electronic gadget, give your child time (and be sure to keep the commitments you make). Here are a few examples:
a. A simple trip together
b. A commitment to spend one hour of one-on-one with her, once a week, all year (for dozens of great ideas with daughters, check out The Dads & Daughters Togetherness Guide: 54 Fun Activities to Help Build a Great Relationship).
c. Make homemade decorations together
d. Build a project together
e. Bake holiday cookies and regale her with stories from your childhood holidays
f. Learn some new things which make you a better dad for him like learning to coach or practice “his” sport with him.
g. Pick one day between now and the holidays to just watch him non-judgmentally all day. Just be aware of how unique and special he is. At the end of the day write down everything you love about him and then go share the list with him as a holiday gift.

3. Redefine interactive. Nowadays, interactive seems to mean a toy or machine that “interacts” with us people. Remember that what really builds families is interaction between people and other people! Make room for a feast of personal interactivity this season–like a neighborhood football romp to exercise away those extra calories and catch up with the neighbors!

4. Consider “One In, One Out.” To relish the giving nature of the holidays, some families use a simple and powerful tradition: For every present a family member receives, she or he donates one of their previous possessions to charity. It’s a concrete way to live the Golden Rule—and cuts down on clutter, too!

5. Make your own presents. Regardless of age, almost any kid can work with his stepdad or dad to make gifts—from homemade crafts to certificates for services to be rendered (e.g.: “Mom, this certificate entitles you to one month of me vacuuming the house”).

6. Wrap recycled. Use “pre-owned” wrapping paper, newspapers, old maps, and other paper products to wrap your presents. It’s a perfect way to personalize a present, while cutting down on waste (and saving money). See other ideas here.

7. Remember that simple is “in.” A Center for the New American Dream poll finds that a majority of families are getting a bit sick of all the holiday hype. So, you’re not alone when you simplify and focus first on the true holiday spirit!

8. Give to others. Help your child or stepchild decide on a set amount of money he will give to charitable causes this year. If he’s too young to earn his own money, give him some to donate. Some kids even give donations as a gift to a loved one—”Big Sister, in your honor, I bought a Heifer® International goat for Women in Livestock Development in Kenya.” Or “Dad, to show how much you mean to me, I donated to the United Way in both of our names.” Some other ideas from dads:

– “Adopt” a family through a local nonprofit. We shoot for one practical (shirt, socks etc.), one toiletry (bath soaps, shaving kit, etc) and one pure fun (game, book, stuffed animal) per person. We have a lot of fun shopping for these people that we do not know, but care about.

– Volunteer at a local charity. I devise a “menu” of places in our city that need help over the holidays, and my daughter picks. We’ve done Meals on Wheels, singing carols to seniors, helping at the animal shelter. Be sure to ask the kids for their ideas too. Often, theirs are the best!

9. Remember ritual. Repetition of meaningful rituals is an important part of building holiday traditions and instilling positive holiday memories for a lifetime. Rituals can include attending religious worship services, having special friends and family for a traditional meal, reading a favorite story every year, making a special holiday morning breakfast, or anything else that draws you closer to each other. Take pictures to help remember—and be sure that YOU are in some of them!

10. Nurture the holiday spirit all year. The holidays remind us what special people we have for children, family members, and friends. Try to remember and cherish that special feeling every day. We only get one crack at being our children’s dad while they still are children. So let’s make the most of it!


Joe Kelly is a father, best-selling author, speaker and media source on fathering and other family-related topics. His books include Dads and Daughters®: How to Inspire, Understand and Support Your Daughter and The Dads & Daughters® Togetherness Guide. He is a husband, a father of adult daughters, and lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. See his blogs, articles, and other resources at

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