15 Parenting Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday
Feeling the holiday stress? Children and stress and the holidays go hand in hand. Take a deep breath! Here are some 15 tips to help you have a stress-free holiday season.
Remember That for Babies and Toddlers, Less is More
They can handle only so much that’s new and exciting. So if your child won’t sit on Santa’s lap or she won’t give a cherubic smile to Uncle Mel, accept it. “I’m always surprised at how many parents sit their screaming child on Santa’s lap in the hopes of getting an adorable picture,” says Virginia Bentz, author of Quick Guide to Good Kids. “The holidays can be as overwhelming for smaller children as they are for you. Know when it’s time to throw in the towel.”
Give Two or Three Carefully Chosen Gifts to Little Ones
Don’t break the bank buying out the baby section of the toy store. Very small children don’t need or want a lot of stuff. Try a board book that you can read together. These are great because your child can turn the babyproofed pages or open the flaps as you go. Or give an active toy, like building blocks, large puzzle pieces, big interconnecting beads, or different shapes to encourage your toddler’s ability to build and create.
For Older Kids, Limit Yourself to Four or Five Gifts Per Child
This is enough to make an exciting display around the tree. Also, when it’s time to open the gifts, take it one gift at a time. Your children will enjoy not just opening their own gifts, but also watching their family members open theirs. Half the fun of the holidays for your kids is watching their siblings ooh and aah over the gifts that they picked out for them. And remember, other relatives will give your children gifts, too.
Don't Over Schedule
If there are too many parties, holiday pageants, great new movies, Santa meet-and-greets, and Nutcracker performances, don’t try to fit them all in. “Your kids may think they want to go to every single one of these events, but as a parent you have to know when to say when,” Bentz says. “You’ll be able to enjoy the events you do attend more if you aren’t thinking about the next thing you have to rush off to. Pick one or two, with input from your kids, and take time to savor each experience as a family. There’s always next year to try something else.”
Avoid Junk Food
At this time of year, you’ve got more than enough excitement without it. You can make your special delicious chocolate fudge, sure, but give it out just one piece at a time. Fill in with healthier snacks. Banana nut bread, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, raisins, nuts, and fruits are tasty and easy for kids to digest. For a festive dessert, make no-sugar fruit gelatin in red and green layers, and then splash each serving with a dollop of whipped topping and sprinkle on colored sugars.
Give Toddlers Gifts That Help Develop Special Interests
“If you have a toddler interested in drawing, get him an easel and some washable markers and non-toxic paints. If you have an aspiring singer in the family, get her a microphone and recorder so that she can record her own songs,” says Bentz.
Volunteer at a Local Nonprofit Agency
When they spend an afternoon helping wrap Toys for Tots or handing out food—or watching Mom and Dad do it— they’ll see the joy of giving in ways you could never explain. “Volunteering their time to help others will help them understand that the holidays aren’t only about getting gifts, attending parties, and eating holiday treats,” says Bentz. “Ask your toddler to pick out a toy or item of clothing to donate to a needy family,” says Dr. Mary Zurn, vice president of Primrose Schools. “Bake cookies with your toddler for the staff at a not-for-profit organization. Explain to your child that they are making cookies to thank the people who work at the local animal shelter or food bank, and explain why those jobs are important.”
Plan Ahead for Some Quiet Family Time
Whatever holiday you celebrate, be sure to build in some time for relaxation and family togetherness. Spend a leisurely afternoon decorating the festive cookies the kids will leave out for Santa, making the candles for the menorah (most craft stores have simple candle-making kits), or drawing pictures that represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa. And try to spend some quiet time resting, reading, or listening to holiday music.
For Divorced Parents, Call a Truce During the Holidays
For everyone’s sake, but especially for the kids, keep things friendly and light. Overlook the problems and forget the complaints for the space of the holidays, and be thankful you’ve got the family you have. “Divorced parents should put the ‘give’ in forgiving this holiday season,” Bentz says. “You don’t want your kids to look back on holidays past and remember times of fighting and unhappiness. You’re adults, so act like it. You want your children to have the best holiday possible.”
Remember One-on-One Quality Time
“With the hustle and bustle around holiday time, it’s hard not to get distracted,” says Robin Kelman, a mom from Pennsylvania. “We often drag our kids around to various shops trying to get everything done. Unfortunately, we forget that our kids don’t enjoy this. It’s hard, but you have to find a happy medium.” For the Kelman family, that balance is found through organization and careful attention to the needs of each family member, especially their 9-month-old and 3-year-old. With so many errands to be run, why wait until you get home to have some of that elusive quality time? Kelman uses time in the car to talk with her daughters and have some “girl time” and chat about the events of the day.
Always Be Prepared to Divide and Conquer
Errands overwhelming? The Kelmans divide and conquer so that their time together can truly be their own. “When we have a busy week or weekend planned, my husband and I sometimes split up,” she says. “He takes [our daughter] someplace just for her, I go run errands, and we meet up and have dinner as a family.”
Remember to Honor Daily Rituals
No matter how busy the days may get, it is important to honor the daily rituals that children have become accustomed to and, in some cases, dependent upon. Kelman always makes sure that bedtime is on schedule and that her daughter gets the individual attention that she wants and needs—there are books to be read, conversations to be had, and deep breaths to be taken. Letting a child know that nothing will interrupt or compromise this time is important to helping them manage the busy nature of the season.
Simplify the Holidays
When is enough enough? “Since you have a toddler, the time to say ‘enough’ is now,” says Dr. Stephen Curtis, author of
Understanding Your Child’s Puzzling Behavior. “It is time for you to reflect and prioritize what you consider most important in your family traditions during the holiday season. It is time to simplify and focus on creating meaningful experiences with your quickly developing child.” Dr. Curtis suggests making a list and checking it twice. “List on paper all of your current traditions, perceived ‘must-do’s,’ and possible new traditions for the holiday season—mailing greeting cards, baking cookies, going to parties,” he says. “Reflect on each generated item and pick your top five traditions to implement. Focus on making these chosen traditions quality and special. If you have time for the rest of your list, wonderful. If not, oh well. Eliminate them.”
Make a Grateful List
Want to take the focus off of an ever-expanding “Wish List” for Santa? Zurn recommends making a “Grateful List” to take its place. Rather than writing down the things that your youngster wants for himself, help him make a list of things that he already has and is grateful for. Doing one along with your children will help them understand your point, and may help you get back to those all-important, often-overlooked elements of the holidays.
The holidays shouldn’t be a time of the year that you feel you must “endure” or “survive.” If you learn to manage all of the elements, you can have an enjoyable and stress-free season. It’s all about finding the right balance of activities for your children. “Holidays are about celebrating, after all, and that means having fun,” says Bentz. “If it’s not fun, if it doesn’t inspire joy, don’t do it. It’s a simple principle, but it’s one that will change everything.”
Whether you're traveling over the river or across the country, use these tips to make your journey a little easier. Our helpful hints are great for the plane, train, or car!view gallery
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