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Taming Holiday Stress

Regain balance over your family's holly jolly headaches with these eight tips

As the holidays approach, families are scrambling to finish shopping, put up decor and prep holiday meals. It's almost a given that there'll be some speed bumps along the way – especially with younger kids.

Want to make the holidays more enjoyable for everyone? Try viewing things from your children's perspective, suggests Bette Holzman, a family therapist and children's advocate for more than 25 years – and vice president of consumer and family advocacy at the Goldberger Company, a 92-year-old toy company.

1. Plan ahead. Make a list of what must get done, and keep expectations realistic about anything else. Get input from all family members. And ask for help. For example, try a "baby-sit swap" with another family; they can watch your kids when shop, then vice versa.

2. Maintain routines. If you have to bring the kids shopping, try to work around their schedule. Go in short time periods, and don't skip meals or nap times. Bring along snacks, water, a favorite doll or toy, and take breaks when needed. Remember, kids are quick to pick up on your stress – and they get stressed, too. (That's when it's time to go home!)

3. Age-appropriate gifts. Shop for the child, not the parent. Kids may not be ready for favorite toys you remember from your childhood. But infants will love soft dolls or plushies, bath or teething toys. And ages 1-3 do best with toys they can manipulate or create with, like blocks, balls, baby dolls or simple interactive toys. Use the age guidelines on the packages – and your own sense. You don't need to spend a fortune to make your child happy!

4. Santa can be scary. Again, view things from kid-level. Getting that photo taken with Santa is a "must" for many, but can be terrifying to kids . Very young children don't quite get the concept of "Santa" yet, so prep your child for what's going to happen. Show pictures of Santa and practice, if possible. When it's your child's turn, convey calm and a sense that this person is safe. If it's not working out, don't force it – or maybe try again later. The last thing you want is a picture of your child screaming on Santa's lap.

5. Remember books. Reading is so important to a child's development, and the holidays are a great time to nurture a child's love of reading. A favorite holiday book in our house (for elementary-aged children) is The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco. Speak to a librarian or a local bookstore for ideas.

6. Tweaking traditions. When developing new traditions, be flexible so that everyone is included. After all, the point is to promote family togetherness. One great example is making cookies. Whether you're using an old family recipe or pre-made dough, it's great hands-on activity for kids. Don't worry about perfection (for younger kids, the best cookies are those with the most frosting and sprinkles).

7. Know before you party. As invitations stream in, it's important to find out whether they're "kid friendly." If your children are invited, ask your host/hostess if other kids will be there, too. Bring a game or toy to occupy them, and some food from home if your child is a finicky eater. Also, bring a change of clothes for your child. Holiday parties are a chance for everyone to unwind and enjoy each other's company.

8. More isn't always better. It's tempting to spoil young kids with lots of gifts, but this can be overwhelming. Tearing off the wrapping can be fun, but they don't get to appreciate things. Try spacing out the gifts so kids get a chance to play with one or two, first. The season's also a wonderful time to teach kids the importance of giving. Allow them a dollar to give to the bell-ringer at the mall, or have them help pick out a toy for the toy drive.

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