Family Life

Expert Tips on Handling Holiday Havoc

Do the visions of sugarplums dancing in your head get flattened by your massive “To do” list each holiday season? Does the dream of a perfect white Christmas have you seeing red when it comes to dealing with family schedules? If your holiday travels seem to always turn to havoc, we've got the guidance you're looking for!

We took ten issues common to the holiday season and asked our panel of experts to weigh in with practical tips and solutions. By reducing your stress and strengthening your resolve, these tips can help you to create genuine joy with your family and friends during this festive time.

Seasonal Stressor No. 1

How can I get everything done with time to enjoy family moments?

Remember that it’s okay to ask for help. Ask someone else to take care of your children while you tackle certain tasks. Then, when you are with your children, you can be more relaxed and truly enjoy those holiday moments.

Also, prioritize the list. Differentiate between “should do” and “must do” items. What’s more important? Getting every little thing done and being a frazzled mess or focusing on the most meaningful activities and being your best self?

In short, don’t try to do it all. Once you’ve prioritized your list, give yourself permission to occasionally leave the kids so that you—and they—have a happier, less stressful holiday season.

Seasonal Stressor No. 2

My husband and I are divorced. Any tips on how to share time without pulling our kids in every direction?

First, be flexible. Let go of the fantasy of having the perfect “White Christmas.” Think outside the box, be creative and start developing new traditions for your family. Second, change expectations. Try not to make your definition of a successful holiday as having your family spending one certain day or evening together. Instead, focus on special moments whenever they happen. Finally, be patient. New traditions are not created over night or over one holiday season. Try to implement some new traditions this year, reevaluate and renegotiate in the future until you come up with an enjoyable and comfortable plan for your family.

Seasonal Stressor No. 3

Our son has recently discovered Santa isn’t real. How do I keep him from telling our younger daughter?

Remind your son that Santa is more about the fun and excitement of the season and encourage him to think about how that spirit of giving can extend beyond your home. Reminisce about holiday memories and encourage him to keep that joy alive for his younger siblings as long as possible.

When your younger children write annual letters to Santa, get your older children to write a letter as well. Give a knowing wink and everyone will enjoy the excitement of sharing dreams with Santa.

Seasonal Stressor No. 4

My husband and I come from two different faiths. How do we combine traditions to help make a meaningful holiday for us all?

You and your husband have already completed the first step to creating a meaningful holiday by deciding that you want your children to learn about each faith.

Take inventory of the most important lessons each of you would like your children to experience. You can do this by sharing with each other what brought you the most joy as a child and make a commitment to incorporate that into your holiday. Once you know what you would really like to share, look for similarities. Start with things you have in common and build from there.

Seasonal Stressor No. 5

My teenager has recently become a vegetarian. What can I cook for him?

Traditional holiday foods offer a lot in the way of vegetarian-friendly fare. Think of classic side dishes that accompany the turkey and are usually meat free, such as mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans and bread. If you usually stuff your turkey with dressing or put meat-based broth in it, cook it on the side or use vegetable broth instead. Add a dish that features Portobello mushrooms for added protein>

Seasonal Stressor No. 6

We experienced a death in our immediate family this year. How do I help my children celebrate the holidays despite our loss?

Even when family members feel they are coping well enough, facing the holidays without a loved one can intensify feelings of loss and grief. Consider traditions you have honored in the past and then decide as a family which ones you want to continue.

Sometimes making changes eases the pain. Lighting a candle, having a brief reading or writing something that celebrates the life of the one who died may help your family. Young children often enjoy drawing a picture. If you have always hosted the holiday dinner at your house, consider asking another relative to host it this year. Give yourself permission to let some of the past responsibilities go and be willing to ask for help when you need it.

Seasonal Stressor No. 7

How do I keep my house from becoming a total wreck during the holidays?

Resist the temptation to bring out every holiday clearance knick-knack in your collection. Store year-round decorations to make room.

Designate hiding spots. Cute baskets or bins allow you to quickly pick up entire piles and set them aside for later.

Clean as you go. Every time you walk from one room in the house to another, pick something up and put it away.

Determine which areas in the house guests will see or will make you feel most sane if they’re clean, and keep that area clean to the best of your ability.

Limit your cleaning time to a set time and see how much you can do in that time.

Adjust expectations. The holidays are meant to be a time when happy memories are made. Don’t let the stress of how your home looks override the fun you are having.

Seasonal Stressor No. 8

How do I teach my kids about the true meaning of the season and that it’s not just about the gifts?

Here are three quick suggestions to help you bring back the true meaning in your home.

1. Set the tone. Make sure the activities and traditions you are choosing have the message you want to send. For example, skip the letter to Santa and substitute it for a tradition of collecting food, clothing or toys for those less fortunate.

2. Limit television exposure. Choose shows and movies with messages important to you. Also try muting TV commercials so that your kids aren’t constantly bombarded with ads.

3. Keep it simple. Simplicity is probably the easiest way for parents to reinforce the true meaning of Christmas—so replace gifts, expensive outings and extravagant decorations with quiet evenings at home, making your own gifts and decorations.

Seasonal Stressor No. 9

How do I reduce stress while traveling for the holidays?

The key to making travel with the kids easier, especially during the rush and crunch of the holidays, is to be prepared and be early.

Pack early and make checklists to ensure nothing is left behind.

If flying, book early flights to try to avoid delays and arrive at the airport early. Use online check-in to confirm seats together. Prepare children for what to expect at security and in-flight.

Send gifts ahead to avoid hassles at security. It might be cheaper than your baggage fees!>

If driving, build in extra time for pit stops and traffic snarls that will inevitably occur. Use rest areas to help kids burn off energy.

Have a bag for each child with games, books, activities and snacks to keep them occupied.

Charge your electronics before you leave and don’t forget to bring chargers along with you.

Ensure necessary prescriptions are filled before you leave and carry an adequate supply along with you.


Seasonal Stressor No. 10

I always seem to have a let-down after all the holiday excitement is over. How can I start the new year on an upswing?

First, try to tame the upswing of intensity during the holiday season by filtering out all non-essential activities for your family. As much as possible, focus on tasks having to do with service to others and those that have meaning to your family.

Once the holidays have passed, plan a fun activity like a family game night or prepare dinner together. This is a simple but fun way to create meaningful memories for the whole family.

Get the family envolved with having a clean out day to gather toys, books, clothes and kitchen items to donate. Then take a family visit to a local charity and donate the items. It's a good lesson in service to others and can help your child realize how fortunate they are to have what they do.  ■


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