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Holiday Stress Got You Down? The 5 Golden Rules of Holiday Sanity

Posted by James Lehman, MSW

As parents, it’s easy to focus on the kids and lose sight of ourselves and our needs as adults at this time of year. So, when we look at how to manage family and behavior problems during the holidays, we need to look at the effect the season has on us and on our kids. We are often overwhelmed by the amount of work we need to get done on the job and the amount of pressure we feel due to social obligations at this time of year. Add in the stress of gift buying (especially in divorced and blended families) and we feel a tremendous emotional fatigue—which means we have fewer emotional resources with which to manage our kids. The whole thing can become a cycle of stress.

Try following these simple rules and keep the stress levels in your house to a minimum.

Rule #1: Work out a schedule and stick to it: Give more thought to preparations, even for simple things like shopping. Work out a schedule with your spouse ahead of time: if one of you is shopping, the other is watching the kids. While the idea of taking the kids along to shop for dad may sound fun, it may not be. If you want to take you daughter along with you to shop for her brother, think twice. Depending on the age and temperament of your child, it may not be a good idea. Decrease the stress on yourself and keep the kids at home. Dinner and getting homework started are stressful times of the day, so try to stick to your usual routine as you lead up to the holidays.

Rule #2: Keep Your Kids Busy (and out of Trouble)
It’s a simple fact: when kids are on vacation, they have less structure in their day. They’re going to get into more trouble because they have time on their hands. A way to keep one step ahead of them is to plan ways to manage that time. Here are some ideas: schedule outings for the week with your kids. Arrange playdates with their friends. Plan tournaments. If you have a couple of kids in your house, plan a holiday Wii or Monopoly tournament that lasts a couple of days or even a week. Let your kids be involved in creating the number of games, the schedule and the prizes. This is a good idea any time with your kids, but it will work especially well during the holiday break.

Rule #3 Keep it Private
It’s very important for parents to communicate with each other and share frustrations at this time when your home becomes very public. Make an extra effort to talk together about problems at work or with the kids and resolve them privately, issue by issue, out of range of curious children and well meaning relatives who don’t know what’s happening in your home day-to-day.

#4: No complaining about the in-laws from December 15th to January 3rd.
I always suggest this to parents. Make a pact with your spouse that neither of you will complain about your in-laws from December 15th to January 3rd. Keep a journal instead and write in it. If you can’t stand your mother-in-law, don’t complain to your spouse about it, especially in front of the kids. Write in the journal, and keep it to yourself. It’s not a good time to share these thoughts with your spouse.

Rule #5: Stick to a Budget
In the wake of the news about the recession, this year, more than ever, people I know are talking about curbing spending and keeping their finances in check. This is a good idea for everyone. Even though you might be tempted, don’t over-spend. Don’t get into playing the “deep pockets” game. You’ll end up with a husband or wife who resents you and kids who feel a false sense of entitlement. If you are in a two-parent household, determine how much you’re going to spend together on the kids and stick to it. And then LET GO.

A successful holiday depends in large part on your commitment to planning for your kids. Planning how to use their free time constructively so they stay out of trouble and do positive things with the family. Planning how much money you’ll spend. Planning so that you have the emotional resources to give them. Planning what you’ll do with any hard feelings that develop between you and your spouse or you and your ex. We all need limits—both kids and adults. Set some limits with yourself this holiday and stick to them. The end result will be a holiday everyone enjoys.


About James Lehman, MSW

James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation® Program, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.

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