You know the drill: the gimmes, the sugar melt, the “are we there yet?” This time of year many children reach high levels of excitement and sometimes invent surprising new behaviors that require your best parenting skills for the holiday.
“Parents should start with their own expectations,” says Susan Newman, PhD, professor of social psychology at Rutgers University in News Brunswick, NJ, and author of Make your kids feel special every day,. “Some parents want to be sure their kids are getting everything they want so there are no tears. That’s an unrealistic goal. Parents, especially with younger children, get lost in the hype.”
Don’t try to please everyone, advises Newman. Someone—even an adult, like a parent, grandparent, or in-law—will be dissatisfied with something, big or small. But usually the kids won’t be – and it’s the little things they’ll remember, like time spent playing a board game or teaching them their video games.
Give the joy of giving
“Children will mimic your behavior,” says Newman. “If you bake for the homeless shelter (and they help) or if you visit people in the hospital, they will remember it. These patterns remain.”
“I like to cook with kids,” says Bunni Tobias, host of the syndicated radio show, Solutions for simple reason“In my house every kid has a specialty, one was king of cookies, one was on top of the veg.” Over time, every household develops a list of their favorite Christmas cookies and treats – these are repeated each year.
Many schools and non-profit organizations have programs for children to give gifts or get involved in charities.
Children can also help wrap gifts or make crafts. “Kids need to see that not everything comes from the store,” says Newman. Boxing also creates a sense of excitement and is a good time for conversation.
Giving gifts is also a great way to give children a deeper sense of the holidays. Going to the craft store, planning a project and gathering to craft things is also a good time for parents to pay extra attention to children.
Tobias recommends that children should be encouraged to create their own wish lists – but also to describe why they would like each item to give them a little thought. That way, parents can gently modify expectations before the fateful unboxing.
Start your own traditions
The vacation can be what you make of it. If you don’t like the traditions handed down to you, start your own.
Go to the Nutcracker, a lighting ceremony, or just drive around to see the house lights
Some other suggestions:
cope with divorce
If your family has been affected by divorce, death, or a major change this year, think carefully about how you plan to approach the holidays. Insisting on doing it the way it used to be might not work. “Even if it just means having dinner at a different time, try to distinguish between the past and the present,” says Newman.
Marilyn Coleman, PhD, a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia, suggests that divorced parents institute a separate family-only holiday, one that’s neither Christmas nor Hanukkah, so the kids don’t feel guilty when they spend time with one parent and not the other. And set the visit schedule in advance, no surprises. Try not to overload children, help your child shop for your ex, and be positive about the other parent. And don’t compete for the child’s affection by breaking the bank with a “big gift.”
Stick to routines as much as possible
Keep the children’s bedtimes, even when relatives are begging, “Let them stay up, it’s a holiday,” says Neumann. People of all ages need sleep, she says: “Nobody wants to deal with sleepless children.
Children should also not be allowed to eat sugar and snacks. “Ask the grandparents to relax,” says Newman.
Above all, be inclusive – if children are at an event, introduce them, teach them how to behave properly, and if they need you for a few minutes alone, make the time.
There is a payout. When the kids are less stressed, you will be too. This is the best gift of all.