Taming the Christmas Gimmees

From the commercials on TV to the displays in stores, everything this time of year is designed to create a green-eyed monster of envy in our kids. Today, with the holiday season starting either before or immediately after Halloween, there is more opportunities for children to get wound up about the December holidays. With so much focus in stores, in commercials, in product catalogs, etc., on getting what you want for Christmas, kids become overly focused on themselves, and thus become more stressed or bratty because of that mindset.

We live in a culture that encourages children to get all they can. Kids are bombarded with the message that they should have—and deserve to have—anything they want. Children compile wish lists that run to pages and pages of often high-priced toys and gadgets, and many kids demand gifts that are not practical (like a pony) or not affordable (like the entire American Girl doll collection).

For parents, helping kids develop a more giving, rather than getting, attitude towards Christmas is to manage holiday Christmas expectations in themselves and their children by thinking and discussing the holidays now. Keep in mind that if you ask adults today what they most remember about Christmas, it’s usually not the presents but the time spent doing something with their family and friends.

How can you guide your child toward more reasonable gift expectations?

Get to the why behind the want. What is it about this present that appeals to your child? Figuring that out will help guide you in what to get your child.

Reign in the wish lists. Set a dollar limit (we do $30 or under for most gifts), plus a number of items. We also didn’t allow kids to send grandparents or relatives a list of items that individually cost more than $20 each.

Think about less costly or more practical alternatives. Maybe instead of a pony, you could offer a child riding lessons or take them to see a horse show.

Quality verses quantity. There’s a time in a child’s life when more gifts is important. One year, I bought lots of little gifts, mostly under $5, for my four kids and wrapped each separately. They will thrilled, it was affordable and fun. But as the kids get older, you can talk about the fact that sometimes the price tag of one gift means that’s basically it.

Experiences versus tangible gifts. Sometimes, you might consider offering a child an experience over a present he could hold. For example, last Christmas, my two girls wanted to see the musical Wicked, which was coming to a local theater near Christmas. Given the price of the performance tickets, we opted to make that their big gift and only gave them a few smaller presents to open on Christmas. Some families opt to go on a special vacation together around the holidays rather than open a lot of gifts.

Communicate expectations ahead of time. If it will be a tighter holiday financially, let them know that but in a way that doesn’t cause additional worry. Instead of saying, “We can’t afford a big Christmas,” try, “This year, we’re scaling back on actual presents, but we’re going to do more family things to celebrate.”

Involve them in giving. This time of year especially, it’s important to direct kids’ outward rather than inward. Adopt a family, Toys for Tots, Operation Christmas Child, and other ways to get a child excited about helping others.

Above all, remember what it is you enjoy as a family around Christmas, and try to make that your focal point, rather than run yourself ragged with piling up gifts.

Making the Most of Holiday Gatherings

I love this time of year, with fall in full swing, the weather crisp and cooler, the anticipation of the coming family gatherings and holiday cheer. But that doesn’t mean the holidays are not without stress or concern or just plain tiredness from all the activities. Here’s how to get through the holiday season without being overwhelmed.

Decide now what you’ll do—and what you won’t do. Figure out how much will be too much for you and for your family. For those with small children, you might want to schedule only a few outings or events with family and friends. For those with older children, you might ask their input for what they’d like to do.

Focus on making memories over checking boxes. In other words, don’t feel you “have” to do something just because it’s expected. Think more about what your family enjoys doing as a family—that’s what this time of year is really about—and put those things on your calendar.

Think about giving, rather than receiving. How can you incorporate giving back to the community, to your family, to your neighborhood, to your friends, to strangers this season? For example, we have the opportunity to host international college and graduate students for a Thanksgiving dinner prior to the actual holiday, which all of us (including our four children) enjoy doing each November.

Don’t be afraid to come late or leave early. When the kids were young, we often arrived at holiday parties on the early side, then left well before ending time in order to accommodate their sleeping schedules. By doing that, we were able to enjoy the party and not have too cranky kids on our hands.

Take time to slow down. If you feel yourself becoming exhausted or overwhelmed with your to-do list or activities on the calendar, see what you can eliminate. There’s no sense running yourself ragged just because the list says you have to. Take ownership of your time and put the brakes on when it gets to be too much.

How do you keep from becoming overwhelmed during the holidays?

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

With the Christmas holiday fast approaching, and 2017 not far behind, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of New Year’s.

As I traditionally do this time of year, I’m taking off the last two weeks of December from blogging to focus on the things that matter most–my family. I will resume blogging about parenting and answering your parenting questions the first week of January.

Image courtesy of marin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of marin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Until then,

Do As I Say…And Do

This time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in the holiday rush—buying presents (check!), decorating (check!), baking (check!), giving (check!), and all the other things that make up the Christmas season. But it’s at these times, when we’re busier than ever and maybe more stressed than usual, that having our actions match our words is even more vital.

Here are six ways we as parents can ensure our actions and words are sending the same message.

  1. Slow down. Yes, I know you have a million things to do, but you also know from experience that trying to do too much too quickly often results in crankiness and mistakes, which led to frustration. Remember that this time of year, errands can take longer because of more mall traffic, etc.

    Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  2. Build in margin. Don’t wait until the last minute to do everything—plan your activities so that you have space between them for the unexpected.
  3. Give grace. Rather than immediately retaliate for wrongs or misbehavior, exercise grace and mercy. That doesn’t mean we become doormats, but it does mean we first think, “Can I overlook this?” before we act.
  4. Give the benefit of the doubt. Instead of assuming the worst in a given situation, assume the best intentions. For example, the saleswoman rings up your item at the wrong price. Rather than jump to the conclusion that she’s trying to cheat you, think perhaps it’s a honest mistake and patiently wait for correction.
  5. Offer smiles. This is one of the easiest things to do and one that we all too often forget. A smile goes a long way to making someone’s day—I know I feel better if someone smiles at me unexpectedly.
  6. Look for ways to make someone’s life a little easier. Carry a senior’s groceries to her car, hold open the door for those behind, say “thank you” and “please” to those you encounter, let others go ahead of you in line, be generous with your time, and think of how you can help those closest to you—your family, friends and neighbors.

However you celebrate the holidays, I pray you will make time for personal connections with your children, spouse, family and friends.

Until next time,


Family Times

This time of year, parents often find themselves having pushback from kids on attending family and other events. Kids whine that they don’t want to go. They fling phrases like: “I don’t know Aunt Mildred or Mrs. Smith, so why should I have to attend the party, dinner or outing?”

Parents, not wanting to have a miserable child on their hands, sometimes cave and allow the child to stay home (if the child is old enough to do so on his or her own, of course).

So why should you make a child attend such functions?* Here are three reasons

  1. Because family is important. Sure, your son might not know Aunt Mildred, but this provides him with an opportunity to get to know her. Knowing your family is an essential component to knowing yourself.
  2. Because it’s not about you. Thinking of others more than yourself is a way to combat the inherent selfishness we all carry around inside. Going to events that would please others more than ourselves is one way to help tamp down our selfish tendencies.
  3. Because traditions are important. Many of these functions center around traditions, and if we don’t teach them to our children, those traditions will die off. And that would be a shame.
Image courtesy of ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But that doesn’t mean a child should have to suffer through such events. Here’s how to engage them.

  1. Make sure you bring something for the kids to do. When we visited my in-laws or other family members without small children, we brought portable toys, games or books for the kids to do while we talked. Even now, we still make sure they come prepared to occupy themselves.
  2. Expect them to have a certain amount of adult interaction. Kids shouldn’t be allowed to disappear for the entire evening. Have the children spend the first 15 or 20 minutes talking with the relatives or other adults before being allowed to go off on their own.
  3. If you have older relatives who might not be as comfortable around children, have your kids prepare a list of questions to ask them, such as What was Christmas like when you were a kid? What was your favorite gift? What holiday traditions do you enjoy? That will help engage both generations in a lively discussion.

How do you help your kids get something out of family functions?

Until next time,

* Of course, sometimes, the behavior of the relative or friend in question might not be suitable for a child to be around, especially in the case of past abuse. In that case, not bringing the child would be the best course of action.

Christmas in Your Heart

Image courtesy of Kittisak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Kittisak/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are 4 ideas for spreading Christmas cheer you can make yourself.

  1. Ornaments. Tree ornaments can be made from almost anything, including things you have around the house. Most of the raw materials are inexpensive to purchase and instructions for a variety of homemade ornaments abound on the Internet. (Here’s a craft site with dozens of ideas.) Some ideas of things that can become tree decorations include clothespins, Mason jar lids, pine cones, lightweight photo frames, buttons, fabric scraps, etc.
  2. Holiday cards. Have your little ones get creative and draw festive scenes, scan and print on card stock for handmade Christmas greetings. Using holiday stamps on card stock will work, too.
  3. Homemade wrapping paper. Turn your kids loose with stamps, glitter, markers and their imagination on a roll of butcher paper and use it for wrapping presents. Cost: Low-cost.
  4. Video cheer. Record an original family Christmas presentation with skits and songs. Make DVD copies and sent to far-off relatives and friends.

May you and your family have a joyous and Merry Christmas, and I’ll see you in 2016 with more tips, ideas and encouragement as we continue this parenting journey.

Until next time,


7 Ways to Enjoy the Holiday Season

Decorations and music can bring cheer to any occasion and Christmas is no exception. Christmas also can cheer up our lives with the many light displays that range from the simple to the eye-popping. Check out these seven fun ideas that revolve around decorating your home, relishing the music of the season and appreciating the lights.

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  1. Decorating party. Get the whole family involved in putting up the tree and other Christmas decorations by planning a specific time. Serve hot chocolate, play Christmas music and turn lose your decorating muse.
  2. Remembering our animal friends. Pop plain popcorn and string the popped kernels with fresh cranberries. Place the ropes on an outside tree or bush near a window and watch the birds enjoy their Christmas treat. “Paint” pinecones with peanut or other nut butters, attach a string and hang up in a tree for the squirrels to enjoy.
  3. Caroling, caroling through the neighborhood. Gather together a group of songbirds from your family and friends for an afternoon or evening spent serenading neighbors. Practice four or five Christmas hymns and end the concert with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Consider visiting area nursing or retirement communities, hospitals or hospices and even your local mall (with permission!) to spread some holiday cheer.
  4. A musical Christmas evening. Sit by the tree and sing Christmas carols, have children or adults play Christmas favorites on instruments and read “The Night Before Christmas” or other holiday poems or short books aloud. Serve holiday cookies and wassail to get into the spirit of the evening.
  5. Attend a Christmas concert or play. Many churches put on free, beautiful productions of the Christmas story in songs and plays. Call area houses of worship, check local newspaper listings, and ask family and friends for recommendations of performances.
  6. Neighborhood lights. One evening, have everyone get into their pajamas and pile into the family car for a drive around the neighborhood to ogle the handiwork of your neighbors. Wrap up a plate of holiday baked goods to give to the owners of the house voted by your family as the most Christmasy.
  7. Light shows. Most localities have a light show within easy driving distance. These shows are generally in a park and feature large and innovative light displays. Weekends are peak visiting time, so if you don’t like crowds, pick a weekday evening. Our family has a tradition of going to see the local light show after Christmas to avoid the crush. Most venues charge by the car-load.

Next Tuesday, find out how handmade items can show your heart this season.

Until next time,




5 Ways to Celebrate Christmas Throughout December

There’s no doubt that children love Christmas, but balancing your to-do list with their celebration expectations can be tiring for any parents. To spread the joy of Christmas all month long, check out these five ideas for celebrating Dec. 1 through 25 and beyond.

  1. Image courtesy of zdiviv/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    Image courtesy of zdiviv/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Marking time. Advent calendars are a great way to help children countdown to Christmas Day and to interject the true meaning of Christmas in the process. Have your children count off numbers and then rotate those numbers to avoid squabbles over whose turn is it to place the star of Bethlehem in the heavens.

  2. Reading Christmas. Each December 1, we get out our Christmas books and holiday movies. Then every day that month, one child picks a book or movie for the entire family to watch or read together. Variations of this include wrapping the books and movies separate and having the kids pick something sight unseen. Consider a holiday-themed book swap with friends to get an influx of new material or visit your library to snag some books to read.
  3. Adopt a family. If you’re able, consider sponsoring a family in need this holiday. Area nonprofit groups like food banks often have programs that link a needy family with a sponsor. Our family does this each year and our children love to go shopping for that family’s children.
  4. Volunteer. Soup kitchens, food banks, and other nonprofit groups have need of extra hands during the holiday season, so consider signing up as a family to help out.
  5. Smile. Just having a cheerful countenance can make someone’s day. Try to smile as you go about your errands. Treat each sales clerk and cashier with kindness. Don’t be a Scrooge with your face!

Next Tuesday, learn about how decorations, music and lights can really brighten your holiday season!

Until next time,