Savor the Season and De-Stress the Holidays: Helpful Tips For Busy Parents

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You can have a wonderful season with family, friends—and save your sanity if you start with realistic expectations.

The holiday season is here. For parents of young children this time can be wonderful, but also full of challenges. If you are looking for perfect holiday experiences, you are destined to be disappointed. The good news: You can have a wonderful season with family, friends—and save your sanity if you start with realistic expectations. Families may experience cookies that have too much icing and sprinkles, children who spill on their holiday shirts, or a tree that has been “redecorated” by a toddler. Holidays are about the relationships, not the details. Over the years, I have learned that if parents are stressed during the holidays, then children can also become stressed. Here are some tips for decreasing parental stress so you and your child enjoy this wonderful time.

  1. Set family priorities.  Discuss which traditions, decorations, parties and activities truly matter to you and your family.  Often doing less results in more fun! Decide sooner rather than later where you will spend the holiday. Remember your job is not to make everyone happy, but to build happy family memories for your child.
  2. Keep a little structure and routine.  Children behave better and sleep better when there is routine.  Make sure young children have enough “down time”. 
  3. Divide and Conquer. If you are hosting a holiday gathering, split up the responsibilities with guests, let everyone participate.  Remember that a spotless home only lasts a minute when you expect a houseful of friends and family. Make it presentable but it is not necessary for it to pass the “white glove test”.
  4. Keep a sense of humor.  Even the worst holiday disasters have the makings of great family memories.  Everything looks more perfect when looking back.
  5. Shop on-line. Buy the same gift for as many people as possible. Think picture gifts…your child’s smiling face is the perfect gift for so many! Talk about limiting your gift list now.  Consider name draws, white elephant gifts, or simply the gift of time with family and friends.
  6. Don’t force a Santa visit.  If a Santa visit is in the plans, plan it well. Visit Santa when your child is well rested and not hungry.  Children who have entered the stranger anxiety phase, which can begin around 7 months and last through the toddler years, often don’t enjoy Santa.  Read about Santa, talk about Santa, wave at Santa from a distance and then try a visit.  If a visit is full of anxiety and tears, try holding your child next to Santa and snapping that picture quickly.
  7. Bake dozens of the same kind of cookie rather than a dozen of different kinds. Concentrate on the experience. It is more important to have fun making cookies than to have beautiful cookies.  Remember your child will have fun helping only if you are having fun. Children don’t care if they are icing slice and bake cookies or cookies made from scratch.
  8. Have a child friendly tree. I am often asked if I think a tree is worth it when there are active toddlers in the house.  ABSOLUTELY! Family traditions are like the glue that connects your family. Families with young children need to embrace a family friendly tree.  Decorate it from your child’s eye level down with safe unbreakable ornaments with plastic hooks.  Let your child explore those ornaments. Our tree was redecorated from a toddler’s eye level down on many days!  That is what made it so beautiful! Consider anchoring the top of your tree with fishing line to the wall, which will prevent a little one from pulling it over. 
  9. Don’t expect perfection from yourself or your extended family.  Family visits are not times to discuss parenting philosophies or a child’s behavior.  Don’t engage in these conversations.
  10. Think simple.  Enjoy the holidays through your child’s eyes.  A drive to look at lights, a cookie and hot chocolate, reading stories around the tree, singing holiday songs, making a wish with the turkey wishbone, and other simple activities usually trump more expensive holiday extravaganzas.
  11. Encourage your family to count blessings.  Teaching children to replace some of the “I want” with “I am thankful for” reduces stress and encourages gratefulness.

This year promise yourself to enjoy the season and it’s magic with your child, that will result in a “perfect” holiday season. Then, take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.

-- By Cindy Love, RN, pediatric nurse practitioner
   Indiana University Health

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