It’s that time of year!  The holidays are often a time where we anticipate lots of wonderful family time together. Whether we celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or simply plan to share time with family, we often spend much of our energy and resources on creating the best possible experiences for our children. Yet many parents dread some of the practical challenges of getting through the holiday break. This is an article about managing the holidays from a practical point of view. Here are five simple ways to make the holidays easier, happier, and more rewarding.

Please note: Some of this is a bit counter-intuitive.  In other words, we tend to think of a very relaxed, unstructured time.  Yet, as you will see, this often serves to create more challenges, particularly for the more difficult child and siblings who squabble.  So here is a place to get started.

Think Structure. This Equates To Predictability For Children.

Kids thrive on structure, so take advantage of this during their break.

How do most teachers manage a classroom with 25 kids? They do so by establishing a structure and routine in which kids thrive. Most families that function smoothly and effortlessly adhere to a fairly consistent structure.

The tendency is to get sloppy and leave everything up in the air.  While this sounds appealing, and for certain kids…it can work well, this usually creates more chaos.  Children do better with a clear game plan for the week, as this equals predictability.  Predictability reduces anxiety for children, and also has another HUGE benefit:  It eliminates all that arguing, negotiating and decision making that goes back and forth.  Keep it simple, and create a template for each week in advance.  This structure will serve you and your family.

Want the holidays to go smoothly? Preview the daily plan!

That’s right: not only have a daily plan but preview it with the kids.  Have a plan for how things will unfold each day, taking into account all the ‘preferred’ activities the kids want to do, and then set limits on how much is reasonable.  Do all this in advance, so the upset and tantrums are all addressed early on. Then, maintain as much consistency as possible with each daily plan. In other words, make sure the days are relatively predictable for your kids. They will experience less stress and the day will flow more easily.

The more you have challenging kids, the more you will want to stick to this game plan fairly rigidly.  How this structure is determined, is somewhat built upon understanding the next point…

Take advantage of the leverage you have available.

What do I mean by this? Set up a daily plan that includes a “work, then play” component. If you are home with the kids every day, make sure that they take on some responsibilities every day, before they are free to begin play. While this may not happen on Christmas morning, this could easily occur throughout the rest of the Holidays. By work than play, I mean set up a simple daily plan where the kids are required to complete a few responsibilities, and perhaps read for a half-hour before they are allowed to play. Simply don’t let the TV, the video games, or the toys come out before their “work” is done. This can make your life easier, and the sense of structure helps to keep children in an environment that feels predictable and comfortable.

To enhance this powerful strategy, have a morning ‘work, then play’ period.  Then have lunch, shutting down all the goodies.  In the afternoon, you can have another leverage ‘work, then play’ period, in which you require perhaps a bit of reading, another small responsibility completed, and perhaps thirty minutes of quiet time.  Control the goodies…this is key.  This is your leverage, so you do not have to end up yelling and fighting with the kids to get things done.

Set limits on behavior with consequences…not words and threats.

Throughout the holiday break, there will inevitably be times when the children’s behavior escalates. If you find yourself threatening, negotiating, and reminding kids over and over, then please consider this: It is much easier to establish limits on how loud, or how physical, or how volatile their behavior can be by using consequences…rather than words or threats. Don’t be afraid to put the kids into time out even in the middle of a family get-together, if their behavior is out of control. If you are at Grandma’s house and everyone’s trying to enjoy a meal, and your son is out of control, walk him to the car and sit in the car for a 10-minute time out. You will likely only need to do this once or twice, and your kids will get the message.

But the bottom line is this:  Your words will not set limits on their poor behavior.  Threats will not do it.  What you need is action…and likely the best action is removed from the situation, and a time out.  It’s the simplest and most effective we can cover here.  Be a parent of action…when it comes to setting limits…and limits will work.

It’s okay… if they are not happy with you every moment.

To maintain limits, and to teach children to function within those limits, it is essential to discipline children at times. Be willing to do so, regardless of where you are. If you allow any situation to dictate whether or not you intervene with your children’s misbehavior, your children will learn that they “own you” in those situations. You will inevitably lose more and more control over your behaviors in those situations. So don’t worry if they are not happy with you all the time, that’s okay! Simply don’t take it personally. The fact that they’re not happy is something that they’ll get over.

Invest more of yourself… not more of your pocketbook.

I know this might seem a bit trite, but at times it seems as though we have all gotten lost. We get lost by looking around at a culture that is so immersed in more…more…more… that we teach our children that the holidays are really about what you get, and not what you give. So as you think about what you’ll give during the holiday season, I invite you to consider how you could be giving more of yourself. Not giving more stuff. Not giving more gifts. Not giving more parties. Not giving the perfect gift. But instead, giving more moments of yourself. How? • Not more toys, but more time with the kids while playing with the toys. • Not bigger meals, but more time with the children during simple snacks. • Not more playdates with all their friends, but more playdates with Mom and Dad. In essence, I invite you to seek more depth in the moments of the Holidays rather than more gifts. It’s not about more ”presents,” but more “presence.” These are lessons for all of us. I encourage you to pause and reflect upon how these simple ideas can make a difference this holiday season.

I will be writing more this Holiday Season, but many of these fundamentals require an ongoing commitment to a Terrific Parent!  My hats off to you for your efforts!   Seasons Greetings to all!