The holidays are approaching and the stress level is rising. In our house, the days between Halloween and New Year’s seem to fly by, filled with holiday celebrations, fall birthdays, travel, vacation, school events, teacher appreciation gifts, and lots of baked goods. Is it any wonder that I wake up in January, exhausted and 10 pounds heavier?
But not this year. This year, I plan to take my own advice and incorporate some of the tips I share with families about how to manage stress and enjoy the holiday cheer.
1) Adjust your expectations. When you have young children, special events bring special challenges. Children crave predictability, structure, and routines. Holidays are all about surprises (presents, visitors), flexibility (long lines at the store, parties during the usual bedtime), and change (travel, hotels, car or plane rides). Plan ahead and expect crankiness, tantrums in your favorite stores, and disruptions to sleeping, eating, and toileting success. Bring comfort items, healthy snacks, and portable potties (if you’re in the world of toilet learning) wherever you go. If you must tote your children with you while you’re out, time it well, stick to a short list, and get in and out of the store as quickly as possible.
2) Shop early. This is also true for visiting Santa at the mall. Go the first week he’s there. Go in the morning when many older children are at preschool. Try never to wait in a long line, because the photos you get will not be precious moments, but grim reminders of struggling to get your children to smile while in the arms of a large, bearded stranger. Try shopping during the summer and early fall, when you’re less stressed. If you shop the week before Christmas, you are either very brave or courting imminent disaster. Remember that bright lights, loud music, and hoards of people at the mall may be exciting and pleasurable for you (or maybe just a necessary evil), but are most likely extremely overwhelming for your young children.
3) Ship early. Goes hand in hand with shop early. Nobody’s happy waiting in line at the post office. Trust me on this one.
4) Just say no. Give yourself permission not to attend every holiday event or birthday party you are invited to. “We’re double-booked,” “We have family in town,” “Let’s get together for a playdate after the holidays,” are some favorite responses. Skip the group scene and spend the afternoon with your family at a park or other enjoyable, child-friendly locale. Choose one or two favorite holiday events and skip the rest. Let another parent handle the classroom holiday party; we wouldn’t want to monopolize the joy of volunteering! If you feel compelled to volunteer for something, pick another time of year. Is travel too difficult for your children? Let your family come to you! Now is the time to create some new family memories that your children will cherish. Right here at home.
5) Time for couples. If you just can’t miss that fabulous holiday party, make it an adult-only event. Get re-acquainted with your spouse. There was a reason you married him or her. Re-familiarize yourself with each other. Be role models for your children. If you want them to take care of their future relationships, model how you take care of your own. Date night can be a surefire way to lower stress and enjoy each other’s company without arguing over whose turn it is to change a poopy diaper. (By the way, date nights can be continued year-round!)
Above all, take care of you. Busy holiday times can lead us to skip exercise, grab unhealthy snacks on the go, and forgo sleep. Don’t forget: if we’re not feeling good, then we’re not the best parents we can be. We’re less patient, less accommodating, and more likely to unintentionally snap at our children. When we take care of ourselves, we are more likely to have the energy, stamina, and resilience to build stronger parent-child relationships. And, who knows, we may even be relaxed enough to enjoy some of that holiday cheer.
Heidi Emberling, MA