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How to Get Your Children to be Less Rambunctious
and More Easygoing During the Holiday Season

Problem: As the holidays approach, my kids, ages 5, 7 and 10, become anxious, silly, whiny and pretty much out-of-control. During this time, I have difficulty calming them down and going about our daily ways and routines. Why such anxiousness? How can I get them to be less rambunctious and more easygoing during the holiday season?

Insight: Holidays are full of outings, gifts, sweets, and no school. Kids don't have the pressures adults have around holiday preparation, spending and gift giving. The excitement kids experience is mostly in the spirit of, "I can't wait for Christmas!" "How many more days 'til Hanukkah?" "Are grandma and grandpa going to sleep over?" "I like getting presents." Waiting for special occasions and holidays is not easy for kids.

Strategies: While the holiday season is a special time for celebrating family traditions, it can also be a time when kids experience a fair amount of stress. With the buildup and long periods of planning, kids get anxious and excited. And, although temporary, behavior changes are common. These tips and reminders should help the holidays be happier and calmer for you and your children.

Do try to be patient and understanding about the excitement and anticipation your kids feel about the upcoming holidays, and expect your kids to want the celebrations to begin "Now!" Their sense of time is very different from yours.

Don't tell your kids to, "Be good or Santa won't bring you gifts." This threat makes kids jumpy and upset, causing them to act out in negative ways. It's hard under any circumstances for kids to be consistently good, and when they're anxiously anticipating a holiday, behaving well is that much harder.

Do know that generally kids these ages don't talk about their feelings. They act them out. So, as the holidays get closer, expect crankiness, irritability and a change in appetite or sleep habits. Also, expect them to have a little trouble concentrating on schoolwork. They'll need a little more of your attention, guidance and reassurance.

Don't have unrealistic expectations. Consider your kids' ages and do what works best for your family. Be flexible and consistently give your kids a positive sense of their self worth. However, continue with your rules, with the understanding that you may need to give more frequent reminders of your limits. Do consider making a calendar to mark off the days they're waiting for. Or make a special paper chain and each day tear off one link; the day all the links are gone is the day they've been waiting for. Get excited with them.

Don't neglect to remember that with advertisements, mall decorations and lots of talk about presents, it's easy for kids to think more about getting than giving. That's okay. Giving should be part of what your children see you do throughout the year. Kids learn by copying their parents.

Do know that when you're uptight, it gets passed on to your children, and they start to experience stress. Remember to laugh-it can change everyone's mood from bad to good.

Don't underestimate how important traditions are to your children. Family traditions offer great comfort and security. Perhaps you and your kids would enjoy making cards to send to relatives, making kid-designed decorations, baking cookies keeping some and delivering some to a local nursing home or soup kitchen.

Do spend some quiet time with your kids when you see things getting out of control and when you need to take a break from holiday-related stuff. Have ice cream, watch a movie, play games, make art projects, tell jokes, read together.

Don't ridicule or put your kids down when they show selfish tendencies and disappointment during the holiday season. At these ages, this is to be expected. Instead, be a positive role model, acting in ways you want them to act. Also, listen to their concerns and show understanding, "That must have made you feel let down." Model optimism and a joyful attitude.

Do ease up on the holiday pressure by giving a surprise treat ("Just because I love you") to slow the buildup.

Additionally, some kids will ask, "Why isn't Hanukkah like Christmas?" Young Jewish children may feel they're missing something. It's important for children to see their parents' enthusiasm for Hanukkah. Parents should be understanding and focus on making decorations and recreating fun Hanukkah activities they remember from their own childhoods. Also, talk about the meaning of different holidays in our diverse culture.

And holidays can be difficult for children in single-parent and stepfamily homes. Holiday traditions can cause children to remember times when Mom and Dad were together. Family arrangements that require children to celebrate at several homes can be upsetting and stressful. Talk, show understanding and be mindful of everyone's feelings. Consider what works for the kids.

Bottom Line: With so many high expectations, it's no wonder so many families have a hard time with the holiday season. It doesn't have to be that way. It just takes conscious parenting, focusing on what's right for your family and making certain that you're setting the tone for joyful holiday spirit. And, whatever traditions you're creating with your kids, make sure that years from now, you and your kids' memories will be full of laughter, meaning and fun. Enjoy the holidays, and enjoy them with your children.

Robin Goldstein is a parenting consultant and author of The Parenting Bible.