December 2009

It’s no news to parents that holidays bring us joy and stress – sometimes in equal measure. Two emotions that seem to go hand-in-hand: As much as we enjoy shopping for those toys our kids are pining for, we dread the lines and the expense. As much as we look forward to seeing our relatives, these visits renew old tensions. As much as we enjoy decorating, wrapping, dressing, and baking, we simply don’t have the time to do them justice. As a result, we are stressed. Seriously stressed.

While some holiday variables are simply beyond our control, there are ways to minimize tension. In fact, there is a great deal we can do to tip the scales toward a family-friendly, relaxing and joyous holiday time. Here are some ways to ease holiday stress.

1. So, you want to bake. Your mother and grandmother made industrial quantity sweets each December. How can you do any less?

  • Bake with and for your children. If you don’t have the time or capacity to create a fantasyland gingerbread house or a chocolate mousse cake, make simple sugar cookies (even the frozen kind) and let your kids add the sprinkles.
  • Opt for cooking activities that don’t require precise measuring. Let your kids help you to grate the potatoes or stir the eggs for yummy latkes.

2. Travel is on the docket – a trip to visit relatives or old family friends, possibly a well-deserved family vacation. Often the most stressful junctures are the transitions – leaving, arriving, packing, settling in … coming together around a collective timetable. It’s not easy even when the destination is sublime. Here are a few tips for easing that getting-ready-to-go tension.

  • In whatever way makes sense to your children, and depending on their ages, provide them with concrete markers that allow them to predict what is in store for them. These might be simple large calendar personalized to highlight the important days, or a bundle of blocks from which you stack one per day. When all blocks are stacked up, it’s time to go!
  • Help your children anticipate what will be needed – take out the empty suitcases ahead of time and explain that these will hold their clothes. Talk about breakfast on the road. Assure your youngster that their favorite transitional toy will travel “right with them” in their backpack.
  • Share photos of what is to come: Gramma, a favorite cousin, snow covered trees… If time allows, you might sit down together and make a travel book including drawings or photos of what is to come. (Hint – Begin with leaving your home and mark the steps of the journey as well as your destination.) Of course, there is much good children’s literature to choose from as you set the tone and enrich your child’s travel experience even before it begins.

3. If you’re the planner … keep things simple. Remember that stress grows with each additional transition. You need to have fun too!

  • Especially if your family is a large one, try setting group priorities, so that everybody’s interests are acknowledged. A mom with four children told me she always travels with four straws. The short one means you’re a good sport if that day’s activity isn’t your first choice. It will come. For now, we enjoy this together. As a family. Period.
  • Pacing makes all the difference. Once you find a rhythm that works for your family, stick to it. You don’t have to accept every invitation, no matter how close the friends. If possible, avoid rushing. Allow lots of extra getting-there time if your kids are young.

4. Presents, presents, presents! Whether you’re guided by style or budget, or a little of both, you probably have your own approach to family gift giving. Along with your wishes to bring joy to those you love come many sources of potential stress: finding the right gift, finding the time to shop for that right gift, wrapping it and hoping it hits the mark. Here are some ideas:

  • Can you buy it online? Will they wrap and ship it?
  • Can you split one large gift into many that you give bit by bit?
  • Can you make the finding and/or opening of a present a game in itself?
  • Finally, our most important gift may be that of a generous and peaceful spirit. That means being able to let go and savor the moment. It’s contagious.

5. Holidays are value-laden. What do you say with yours? We may not all take our families to work in the soup kitchen – though it’s a wonderful thing to do. Or visit the senior home or make God’s Love deliveries. Still the choices we do make speak loudly and clearly. Through our actions, we tell our children what matters in our world and we can invite them to get on board. Here are a few final tips on ways to make this holiday time meaningful to your young child.

  • Make the experience of giving a concrete, hands-on experience – ask your child to draw, build, stir the bread dough, or lick the stamp.
  • Let them play a role in delivery – even if only to the mailbox.
  • Use language – such as sharing and helping out – that is non-patronizing.
  • Repeat often throughout the year.

Happy Holidays to all Discovery Families!