November 24, 2008

Creating Happy Holidays for Your Family

By Janet Golden, 4-H Program Leader, Pinellas County Extension

Holidays are a wonderful happy time, but they can also be very stressful for families, especially children, because of the changes; the increase of social events, less time with parents because they are so busy preparing for the holidays, change in schedule, and the tons of sweets and holiday treats. The following are some tips on holiday safety, spending, and stress to ensure that you and your family have a happy holiday season.

Holiday Safety
Most parents spend a lot of time readying their homes for the safety of their kids, but with the hustle of the holidays it is sometimes overlooked. The holidays are a time of many social events and spending time at other family members’ and friends’ homes, but it is not a time to forget about some basic safety tips:

• If your child is visiting a relative or friends house without you, remember to let them know about any allergies, especially to food, that your child may have.
• Keep a watchful eye on your child when at someone else’s home, even if they are with a group of other kids. Remember that other homes may not be as careful about keeping medication and toxic cleaners locked up, there may be a firearm in the home, and pools may not meet the safety standards.
• Read the article, “Decorating Your Home for the Holidays” to review safety information on Christmas trees, gift and home decorations, and fire prevention.

Holiday Spending
The holidays are an easy time to overspend budgets and find yourself in debt afterwards. During today’s tough economic times it is more important than ever to stick to a budget. According to family resource management specialists with Iowa State University Extension, "You don't have to spend lots of money in order to have the holiday spirit. Many people overspend because they feel trapped by holiday traditions and expectations." So make it your goal this year to not get trapped. Just because you have always done something one way in a family, does not mean you cannot make changes. Have an open and honest talk with family members that you need to reduce this year. Let your children know what the holidays are really all about and that gifts are something extra. Consider the following to cut down on holiday costs:

• Set a limit on an amount to spend on each other and make sure the amount is something all can afford.
• Consider drawing names so each person only needs to purchase one gift.
• Exchange gifts of service. For example you can give someone with kids 4 hours of babysitting or if someone has handyman talents they can give those as a gift.
• Be creative and make something versus buy something.
• Discuss with children that they cannot get everything they want, so use this time as an opportunity to learn how to prioritize their wishes of what they want most. Be candid about the discussion if the items they want are too expensive.
• Have potluck as the theme for holiday parties. There is no need for you to take on the time and the expense of all the cooking.

Holiday Stress
While holidays are lots of fun, you do need to prepare yourself, and especially your children, for the emotions and stress that come before, during, and especially after the holiday. As adults we get so busy with all that needs to be done, we sometimes forget that our stress causes our children stress. Here are some ideas to cut down on stress and make the holiday season better than ever.

• Limit the number of social gatherings, holiday plays, and events you attend.While we hate to disappoint everyone, remember that too much change in a child’s schedule often causes behavioral issues. It also leaves less time to spend with your family, so think about limiting engagements to 1-2 per week.
• Have the whole family get involved in preparing for the holidays. Make a list together and delegate who needs to do what to get it all accomplished. Kids feel more a part of the whole process when you get them involved, and it lessens the stress on the parents to get everything done.
• Volunteer as a family to help another family in need or visit and click on ‘about us’ to get a list of holiday volunteer opportunities. Helping others in need helps you to put the holidays in perspective.
• Traditions are important to kids because it puts the emphasis on the family versus gifts and social events. Kids, just like adults, look forward to traditions because it gives them a sense of security. It is never too late to start a new tradition in your home.

I invite you to comment on this blog about a tradition you have now or had as a child or to add any other tips for a happy and safe holiday season.

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