Parenting Q & A

Ellen Barrett, a parent educator at Family Connections (formerly known as Heights Parent Center) for the last 12 years, fields questions from parents about the daily ups and downs of parenting. The same issues affect many parents. If you have a question for Barrett, e-mail her at 

Q.  We have two kids, ages 3 and 5. Last year our holiday season was a disaster! Temper tantrums and meltdowns for the kids; fatigue and stress for us. With this year’s festivities right around the corner, I am determined to avoid a repeat of last year. What can we do to enjoy the special celebrations and help the kids stay calm and happy?

A.  Oh, the holidays—such a mixed bag! They bring good food, family visits, religious observances, and time off from work, as well as too much sugar, overstimulation, high expectations and overly full schedules. All of this activity can make kids cranky and leave parents exhausted. Luckily your kids are still young enough that you can hit the re-set button and try things differently this year, without them even realizing.

Here are a few key strategies to help you enjoy, celebrate and maybe even relax a bit over the holidays:

  • Simplify activities, and reduce the number of traditions in which you participate. If in past years you baked ten different kinds of cookies, pies or cakes, this season make just three or four. If you have several families to visit over the holidays, spread the visits out over a week or make special plans for another time of year, such as Presidents' Day or Valentine's Day. If you exchange gifts with multiple family members, suggest drawing names and buying a gift for only one person.  
  • Stick to as many routines as possible. Most of the time children become cranky because they are tired or hungry. We tend to move bedtimes and mealtimes around during the holidays, and this can upset the usual rhythm of your child’s day. Make sure to honor bedtime and naptime as much as possible, and save the sweets for after a nutritious meal. If you celebrate the holidays with a large group, stay firm about the schedule or skip some of the gatherings. Stay home and create your own family traditions—these can be just as fulfilling, especially if they come with less stress.
  • Plan ahead whenever possible. If you can bake and freeze now, or shop ahead of time or online, it will free you up during the busiest days. Make a budget and stick to it so you don’t face big bills in January.
  • Take time for yourself by taking breaks, pacing yourself and treating yourself to things you enjoy. This will help you to stay more energized for the hectic days, and help to keep everyone else in the family calm and happy.

Although it may be impossible to follow all of these suggestions, it is important to set priorities. Unfortunately, the very things that make the holidays special can also make them disruptive. If you don’t overreach and try to do too much, it will be easier to deal with the inevitable bumps in the road. As your children grow, they will become better able to cope with all the activity and chaos, and learn to appreciate the special moments and traditions, too.

Read More on "Got kids?" Corner
Volume 3, Issue 12, Posted 2:38 PM, 11.09.2010