Ask Sally Tannen: 92Y’s Parenting Center Director Prepares Parents For The Holidays

Sally Tannen. Photo by Michael Priest Photography;

Editor’s Note: 92Y’s groundbreaking Parenting Center was America’s very first, and it has been a leader in the field ever since it was established in 1978. Parenting expert, Sally Tannen, is Director of the Center (and of 92Y’s wonderful new Grandparenting Center), dedicating herself to supporting parents, building community, and creating and offering activities and classes for babies, toddlers, and thousands of New York City families. A mother of four and grandmother of three, Sally’s personal experience continues to enrich and inform her work.

I am thrilled to welcome Sally to New York Family, and to have her share her expertise in her new monthly column. If you’re a parent, you’ve got parenting questions. We’ll be bringing you the ones Sally is asked again and again at the Parenting Center. This month’s topic? Handling stress while giving thanks!

Mia Weber, Executive Editor, New York Family


The holidays are supposed to be this “golden” family time, but I’m totally stressed out! My mother-in-law will be visiting and staying with us for a week, and she never hesitates to critique my parenting style. I love her, but I’m my kids’ mother, she’s not. How can I make this clear with the least upset for everyone?

The holidays can be an incredibly stressful time, and it’s great that you are thinking ahead about a potential issue. The most important thing you can do as your mother-in-law’s visit approaches is make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page. Talk together about how you will handle specific situations – the time or method by which you put your child to bed, for example – and how you will reinforce your own rules and rituals. Anticipate (together!) situations most likely to be problematic. And since it’s your husband’s mother, have him talk to her before she arrives to gently set some boundaries before the actual visit.

The takeaway: Anticipating and addressing potential problems can help minimize stress in the moment.

My husband and I will be taking our preschooler and toddler to spend the holidays with family we see just once a year. For the kids, it’s almost like seeing strangers. My 4-year-old is particularly shy. Are there things we can do to prepare our kids before we travel, and how can we get them to loosen up once we’ve arrived?

“It’s almost like seeing strangers” because that is essentially what it is for your kids. Parents and grown-ups need to accept that kids are understandably wary of unfamiliar people, even if that includes an aunt and uncle. We need to respect a child’s reticence or shyness in new situations and around new people, and trust their instincts to relax around those who make them feel most comfortable. Parents are often so eager to present the “best” versions of their children, it’s almost like asking them to perform. Children – even little ones – know what they need to move forward. Give them space, and all will be fine.

The takeaway: Allow your children to warm up to new people and situations at their own pace.

My wife and I will be hosting our first Thanksgiving as new parents (we have 2-year-old twins). How can we maintain our sanity as we try to cook a holiday meal, care for the boys, stash the toys, and attempt to shower in the days and hours before our guests arrive??

First, you and your wife are brave to be hosting a holiday meal with 2-year-old twins! Second, decide what you want to give up. The most important thing during any holiday is sharing it with people you love, so it’s wonderful that you are gathering. But you are setting yourselves up for a very stressful day/week if you are determined to do everything as you would have before, thinking the addition of two tiny people is not a very big shift. I would encourage having guests participate in bringing elements of the meal – all of it, if you can just “let go.” Or, if you’re determined to do some of the cooking, enlist one of your guests to come early to play with the boys so you are not multi-tasking with mounting frustration.

The takeaway: Give some things up so you can enjoy the wonderful ride that is parenthood 

Our family will be going to a restaurant for Thanksgiving. The only way our 3-year-old will ever sit at the table for more than five minutes is with my ipad, but “devices” at the dinner table are frowned upon in my family. How can I get our daughter to hang in there for what is sure-to-be (what we’d like to be?!)  a relaxed holiday meal?

Before there were electronics, there were crayons. Parents have been enjoying dinners with a side order of Crayola for many, many years. Bring along a coloring book or paper, seat your child next to the person most likely to join in and encourage her, and let her get busy. Small books that can be read to her, paper dolls, and finger puppets are other easy things to slip into a tote so she can be kept entertained. It’s a holiday dinner! And it’s not just the children who should unplug…

The takeaway: Technology is not the boss of you, nor do I believe it is a healthy option for young children.

To learn more about the 92Y, visit 92y.org!