Christmas Countdown C -13

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Keeping Kids Happy during the Holidays

Shaunna Privratsky

The radio plays continuous Christmas music.  The stores suddenly sprout six extra rows of decorations and triple their ads.  Tension builds into a frenzy of buying.   For many of us, the holidays herald feelings of dread.  Did you know that kids can get stressed out by the holidays, too?

Children of all ages anticipate special occasions.  Some have built up the fantasy of a “perfect” Christmas so much that they are in for a big disappointment when the day finally arrives.  As parents, we can do a lot to help kids have a great holiday season full of memorable moments.

Stop the stress with some of these simple strategies.  First of all, sit down and make a list, preferably with your child.  List all the activities your family does and maybe some new ideas, also.  Now look at each item and ask these questions.

1.  Are there some traditions your family has outgrown or no longer appreciates?  We used to visit Santa’s village every year, but last year both children decided they were too old.  We still went and enjoyed a horse-drawn hayride, though.

2.  Are you too meticulous in your decorating?  Kids love to get in on decorating, so put on some cheerful holiday music and let them help. 

3.  Can you spend less on gifts?  Before you step foot in a mall, decide on a reasonable budget.  Make kids a part of it by having them choose one to five things they really want, and then surprise them. 

4.  Can you skip some events or obligations?  If driving six hours to Aunt Millie’s house every year brings groans of dismay and relentless squabbling in the car, why not invite her to your house?

5.  Could you assemble store-bought bakery goods instead of baking? You can get the whole family involved in making fancy cookie trays, even if you don’t bake them yourselves.  An easy idea is to arrange assorted cookies or treats on a fancy paper plate, wrap in cellophane and tie with a festive ribbon.  Attach tags with “Assembled with love” or other cute sayings.

6. How do you keep boredom at bay?  Children usually get a long break from school.  The trouble comes when too many hours of free time overwhelm them.  They quickly tire of all their new toys and gifts and you are faced with grumpy kids.  One idea is to put them to work.  Instead of waiting until January, have them help un-decorate the house.  Offer incentives and rewards.  You can also schedule fun activities, but don’t overdo it. 

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7.  Have you heard the saying that visiting relatives are like fish?  Nice when they’re fresh, but they start to stink after too many days.  Try to schedule shorter holiday visits and provide some familiar toys and games to keep kids occupied.  Renting movies is an inexpensive activity that all ages will enjoy.

8. Give the gift of time.  Most children would rather spend some fun time with their family than get heaps of over-priced presents.  Schedule some “down” time and just have fun with your kids.

9.  Help kids focus on the spirit of giving, instead of getting.  When they start to experience the joy of helping others, they will truly understand the reason for the season.

A lot of stress is caused by unrealistic expectations.  Remembering past holidays through the rose-tinted glasses of memory can leave your family feeling flat or disappointed when events don’t measure up.  Relax!  Plan doable activities that everyone can participate in and even if a few things go wrong, your attitude is 90% of the battle.  Years later, it is the “disasters” that we  recall with a chuckle or a groan, not the uneventful days.

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Kids aren’t the only ones that get stressed out over the holidays.  Are you filled with excitement, brimming with plans, or do you stay awake at night, worried about money, menus and meddling family members?  Avoid these common holiday problems by planning ahead and you’ll be ringing in the New Year with smiles instead of frowns.

1. Bulging Budgets – Gift lists a mile long, rising gas and grocery prices, party supplies, postage, decorations; everything costs more at Christmastime.  Keep your budget in check by reining in spending and planning ahead.  Try to spread out your gift buying over several paychecks, to ease the strain on your wallet.  Pare down your gift list to just the kids, or draw names for extended family members.

2. No room at the Inn – All the relatives want to visit, but you have nowhere to put them!  Instead of turning them away, pick up some inexpensive air mattresses.  These make incredibly comfortable beds, especially on top of flat surfaces like a futon or Klick-Klack sofa.  They even make old-fashioned sleeper sofas actually comfortable!  Deflated, the air beds take up a tiny amount of space until the next visit.  Spruce up your decor with fresh pillows, seasonal decorations and scented candles.  The Dollar Store is filled with clever and useful items that only look expensive.

3. Don’t go cold turkey!  Have you ever forgotten to unthaw the turkey?  Start three days before by placing the bird in the refrigerator.  Use an oven bag with a tablespoon of flour, in a drip-free pan for fool-proof cooking.  Bake for 3 1/2 hours at 325 degrees, then let sit for 1/2 hour before carving.  Some grocery stores even offer unthawed birds, but at a premium price.  You could also serve several smaller Cornish game hens, which cook up in a fraction of the time, provides plenty of legs for the kids and has less clean up afterwards.   

4.  Multiple Menus.  What if one of your guests is a vegetarian or needs a no-salt diet?  The best thing is to plan ahead.  Ask the person to provide menus or bring some of their own food.  You can be accommodating, but don’t become a slave to someone else’s lifestyle.  Another solution would be to eat out, where there are plenty of options for the pickiest eaters.

5. Don’t get caught in the breakdown lane – Keep your ride rolling with regular oil changes and maintenance.  Jiffy Lube offers free computer checks if your red Service Engine Soon light comes on, and also checks your tire pressure for free.  The proper inflation is printed on the inside jamb of the driver’s door.  Inflating tires slightly higher helps with traction in heavy snow, and also improves gas mileage.   

If you do need service, try to call around for the best rates or even bring in coupons.  Most stations will price match or work with you on a payment plan.

6. Don’t go postal – Do your shipping as early as possible.  Each day you delay makes the prices go up and the lines get longer.  Online shoppers have an advantage: free shipping on holiday gifts at most online retailers.  You can ship the item right to the recipient, cutting out the costly middleman.

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7. The weather outside is frightful – holiday traveling can be as perilous as Santa’s sleigh in a blizzard.  Invest in trip insurance so if Nature messes up your plan, you can get a refund or rebook without costly fees. It is better to be safe than sorry; so allow plenty of time for travel and arrive alive.  Also, it pays to have a Plan B, because we all know how fast our plans can go awry.

8. Meddling Relatives – The holidays often bring the whole family together, along with old grudges, nosy questions and uncomfortable topics of conversation.  Instead of being the Grinch, use these clever coping strategies for getting out of uncomfortable moments:

a. Say, “Thank you for your input” to criticism. 

b. Or, “That’s a difficult subject I would rather not discuss.”

c. Stick to “safe” topics; the weather, the food, sports.

d. Practice avoidance.  “Oh, I forgot something in the car.”  Or step outside for a breath of fresh air.  Or you can always hide in the bathroom until the dessert course.

Not all of these ideas will apply to you and your family.  The key is to prioritize your list and only do the things that add to your happiness.  So this year, take a deep breath and vow to eliminate stress.  Give yourself permission for a smaller to-do list.  The holiday season is not about how much you get done, but about the warmth of the spirit and the love of family and friends.  Make this your family’s happiest holiday ever!

Shaunna Privratsky is a full time author. She lives in North Dakota with her family and is happily looking forward to a new year. Visit The Discount Diva at http://shaunna67.tripod.com/id21.html

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