A few weeks ago we posted on Facebook about how tough the holidays can be for children.  The change in schedule, the sugar, being overwhelmed by activities, the SUGAR!  Lots of you liked and shared the post so we thought that you might appreciate a few more tips on how to have a ‘happy’ holidays.
Managing expectations is key – your own as well as your child’s.  We all want the Hallmark Christmas but the reality is that we don’t all have matching holiday PJs (in my house the husband point blank refuses) and a complete change of home decor for the season.  And that’s ok.  Traditions are what you make them, and if a tree is as far as your budget or time allows then that is ok.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Your children don’t care.
The best way to manage expectations is clear communication – in advance.  Don’t leave things to the last minute and don’t be afraid to be firm.  If you can’t go to Nana’s on Christmas Eve, don’t leave her hanging.  Tell her in advance, tell the children in advance, and work together to find a time convenient to everyone when Nana will pop round to visit.  There are also only so many weekends in December and conflicts will arise.  Last Saturday I had three important events all at the same time on the same day.  In the end we chose to go to the one that we knew would bring us the most joy as a family and also the one that our child won’t want to do forever.  There will always be holiday events but your child will only be willing to sit on Santa’s knee for a few years.  Always opt for what brings the most joy!
Another expectation to manage is Santa’s budget.  Children want everything and know the cost of nothing.  Set expectations that Santa only brings a limited number of gifts (in my house it is one – otherwise how will he fit it all in his sled?) and as the elves work for Santa and not Apple – that gift can not be an iPad or iPhone or anything else costing hundreds of dollars.  If your child asks for something that is outside of Santa’s budget, let them know immediately and ask them to choose something else.  This avoids stress for you and disappointment for them.  If you don’t do Santa or if your children are too old, set a budget in advance and ask them to work within those parameters.  It is never too soon to teach the importance of budgeting.  If you have generous family or friends, you can also ask them to help with the cost of more expensive items.  Your teen daughter is going to be just as excited about her phone knowing that it came from a group of friends and relatives.
Holiday events can also be expensive.  If you can afford tickets to the Nutcracker that is a wonderful opportunity and experience for your child.  But equally as fun for many will be sledding, building a snowman, decorating cookies, watching Elf on TV or singing holiday music loudly and out of tune.  At the end of the day it will be having fun with YOU that they remember and not the activity.  Some of the fondest holiday memories from my childhood are decorating the Christmas cake with my Mother and singing carols in the car.
For divorced parents the holidays can be particularly hard and stressful.  However, it is important for everyone that you don’t dwell on the negatives but instead celebrate what you have.  If it is not your turn to have Christmas Day this year, then celebrate on a different day.  Historians are fairly certain that Jesus was born in the spring, so it is the spirit and intention of the day, and not the date, that matters.  Or even forget Christmas and have a complete random holiday of your own invention another day.  This also gets you out of doing the holiday activities you dislike!  It is also important to set the visitation schedule well in advance and to stick to it.  This creates certainty for your children and helps them manage their own feelings and stress.  Don’t try to outcompete your ex with a bigger or better holiday and help your children to shop for the other parent.  If you can exchange gifts with your ex, or simply a card wishing them a happy holiday, it sets a fabulous example for your children and may even ease some of your emotions.
Stick to routines as best as you can.  That includes the same bedtime, the same wake-up time and three proper meals a day.  And try to limit the sugar!  It is so tempting to indulge at this time of year, but science has shown that in addition to the highs and then complete meltdowns; sugar triggers the same parts of the brain as cocaine and is highly addictive.  A few treats is absolutely fine and only fair, but spread it out over the whole vacation and into the New Year.  If you feel that your child has far too much candy on their plate, there are many charities – local food banks or those working with the homeless – that will gladly take unopened cookies, chocolates and treats that don’t require cooking etc  Packaging it up and donating it is something you and your child can do together and feel good about the donation.
And finally, there will come a time when you don’t see your children over the holidays.  They may have moved away or be working on the holidays.  Eventually they will have families of their own and establish their own holiday traditions.  Make the most of this time together and focus on quality family time rather than gifts.  The gift of a loving family is everything.
Happy Holidays from the BGCLT family to yours.
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