Vintage Parenting 101: Have A Healthy Holiday Season

As a part of my efforts to increase the accessibility of my website, I am re-posting articles from my old Parenting 101 page as stand-alone blog posts on the main site.

October 30, 2007 – “Have a Healthy Holiday Season”

Q – As much as we may look forward to the holiday season, parents all know it can be a very stressful/difficult time of year. What can parents do in their holiday planning to help make it as healthy and positive a time as possible?

A – Taking into account your children’s ages and interest levels, include them in holiday planning and preparations. Parents often set themselves up for trouble by making holiday plans without getting input from kids, sometimes even without even realistically considering the kids. Do your best to make holiday plans that will work for the whole family. This doesn’t mean you hand over the decisions to your children, but seeking and considering their input can really help minimize some unnecessary conflict and stress. If kids are too young to offer meaningful input, be sure to consider their limitations, interests, and abilities in your plans.

Remember, often times less is more. Leave room for rest, relaxation, and spontaneity during your holiday season. Planning and structure are good things, no doubt about it. However, don’t try to do so much that you get to the end of your holiday and vacation time, and wish you had vacation time to rest from your vacation time. Make sure to celebrate the traditions that are important to you and your children, and be willing to let go of traditions that may be low on meaning but big on time and energy (stress). If your family doesn’t really have meaningful traditions for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, etc, try some new things this year and see if they are worth repeating in years to come. Such traditions could center on religious beliefs and family values, relationships among family and friends, special meals or other gatherings, fun times with gifts or stockings, special games played, connecting in special ways with the community, or so many other things that can bring rich meaning to the holidays.

Q – What traps should parents be careful to avoid during the upcoming holidays?

A – Of course, the big temptation for so many folks is to overspend – especially when it comes to buying Christmas presents. The reasons for this are many: “keeping up with the Joneses,” trying to make up for other problems by getting kids terrific presents, trying to make ourselves feel better through spending, and many, many more. Unfortunately, Mastercard, Visa, and the gang aren’t in business to make us feel good – they are in it for the money. And that post-Christmas bill will most certainly find us. Creating more stress through overspending is a temporary fix for the holidays that is typically not worth it in the end. With some creativity and good self-discipline, parents can make better choices that won’t be so costly in the long run.

Another trap to avoid is allowing yourselves to be pressured into making choices during the holidays that are really more about living up to someone else’s expectations than they are about you making your own best decisions. Whether the pressure comes from your kids, your parents, your friends, your church, or whoever else – parents do well to stay in charge of their own decisions and offer strong leadership to their children by avoiding the pressure trap. And speaking of pressures, the holiday season often creates enough stress to tempt many people to turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of coping. If this is a problem for you, I urge you to get help – for your own sake, as well as your kids’ and your family’s sake. I highly recommend Alcoholics Anonymous as a way to get help, but wherever you turn, get help somewhere.

Q – Some parents are not only dealing with the usual stress of the holiday season, but also facing issues of loss and grief in their lives or in the lives of their children. What warning signs should they look for in their children and family as indications that they are struggling with grief?

A – The holidays can be a particularly difficult time for dealing with grief. If your kids seem to be quieter than usual, this may indicate a struggle on their part. On the other hand, some kids may express grief through anger, short tempers, or irritable moodiness. Also, as parents, you may find yourself easily overwhelmed, frustrated, or agitated during the holiday season. If you or your children seem to be struggling with grief this holiday season, I would urge you to reach out for help. This could include professional counseling, conversations with a pastor or priest, seeking help from trusted family members or friends, or even finding a helpful support group.

Q – What are some basic tips for parents to help their kids and families cope with grief in healthy ways, especially during this time of year?

A – It is so important to pay attention to your kids if you know grief could be an issue right now. Listen to them. Sometimes this is the most valuable thing you can do for them. Allow them to express their emotions openly and honestly, and be careful not to react harshly or in ways that would lead them to close up and hold it in. If you and your children have lost someone in recent months, allow them to be remembered and included in your traditions and holiday gatherings – even if it is painful. It’s ok to cry together during the holidays. It may even be the most meaningful thing you do during this year’s holiday season. And make it a priority to take good care of yourself – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is good for you, AND for good for your family. This may mean doing less, making more time for exercise or other self-care activities, going to support groups or AA meetings, or any other things you need to do to take care of you.

Remember the wisdom of the airline safety speech – put on your own oxygen mask first. Your children need you to be in good shape, so you can effectively lead them and provide for their needs. For more ideas for a healthy holiday season, check out my “Surviving the Holidays” page.

I hope you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a healthy holiday season – whatever holidays you will be facing and celebrating together!

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