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Holiday Survival Strategy

Parenting expert Alyson Schafer answers some pressing viewer questions about parenting over the holidays.

Schedule Changes

I have a 10-month-old and two-year-old who I keep on a structured routine.  I have so many holiday parties to attend that involve travelling in the car (which they hate) and missing naps. Any tips to keep my kids happy on the road and help them adapt to schedule changes? 
Ask yourself – do you have to go? It’s ok to say no and take off your supermom cape in exchange for some sanity.  If you do need to go, try to make sure there’s enough breaks in between events for the kids to recover. In the car, try to recreate nap time by tucking them into car seats or changing them into pyjamas. At the party, try to stick to normal feeding times, etc., so they’re not too thrown off.  Bring a playpen so they have a quiet place to rest as well.

When kids outgrow the "magic" of Santa

My oldest son, who's 10, recently declared that he no longer believes in the "magic" of Christmas.  We have two other younger kids at home and we don't want to spoil it for them.  Any advice?
If he is the eldest he will enjoy knowing that he is growing up and is now on the “adult side” of the story.  Play up his maturity. He is now playing for the adults' team and has important responsibilities to keep the story alive for children all over the world, his siblings included.  He can “act” like he believes and you can have a special signal to show him you know he is “playing a long.”  
Even if he spoils it - I would keep your own resolve that YOU believe, so don’t discipline him.  Simply say, “maybe your brother doesn’t believe anymore but I believe in the magic of Santa.”  

Kids and Holiday Etiquette

My four-year-old daughter doesn't handle opening presents very well. Unless it's something she loves she'll openly just blurt, "I hate it," or will say," I already have this."  What's the best way to handle this?
Young children have an ego-centric view of the world and it’s our job to replace this with a care and kindness for others that we call “social interest” or “community feeling” – basically, caring about our fellow humans rather than just caring about ourselves and what’s in it for me.  
Before gift opening, talk about etiquette and how to politely receive a gift: simply put, a ‘thank you’ is sufficient, regardless of what people honestly think of the gift. 
Create an experiential learning opportunity: Have your child host a teddy bear tea party and make some cookies to serve. Compliment her on how lovely her tea party is, and what a lovely host she is and how much you enjoy the cookies.  She will beam with pride.  Then say, "Imagine if your teddy bear came to the tea party and he HATED the cookies and threw it on the ground saying he wanted a pot of honey instead!??  Wouldn’t that hurt your feelings?  That is why we just say 'thank you'." 
Also, encourage children to make gifts or buy gifts within a wee budget - as young as possible - so they can experience how great it feels to give, and how much you reply on a positive reaction of the receiver.  This will indirectly give them empathy for others as they see it from the other side of the equation (the giver instead of the receiver). 

Creating kid-friendly fun 

We've got three kids, ages 14, 12 and seven.  Every time we go to a holiday party, they roll their eyes and say they're bored almost immediately after we get there.  Does anyone else deal with this?  How can I make this something more enjoyable for them?
Explain to them that you are going to the party as family and they can have a boring time or a fun time - that is there choice. If they choose fun, how will they create it?  It’s ok to pack a deck of cards or some other activity.  Brainstorm with them or research ideas. 
Kids can also get creative and have a scavenger hunt at the party: for example, look for a woman wearing earrings, a man wearing argyle socks, a person with a watch, someone with an ornament in their hair, etc.   
See if there are other children coming to the party and help get them started on a game or activity together:  Older kids can get paid to look after younger kids.  They may want to rehearse a skit they want to perform at the party.  
Continue to check in with them, maybe play a hand of cards briefly with them so they know you care and want a good night for them too. 
If it’s really that much of a kid-unfriendly party, maybe it’s time to leave them at home! 

Teaching kids the gift of giving

Any tips on teaching kids how to focus more on giving than receiving? I'm not sure how best to approach it with our six- and nine-year-old daughters.
It’s recommended to take a developmental approach to this issue.  Parents tend to start with the “savings jar” concept, but most times it’s too abstract for little minds.  Instead, capture their interest and do something together that is tangible, concrete and meaningful. For example, try taking an upwrapped toy to the fire hall or food to a food drive.  Explain that it’s charitable and let them see how you’re helping other people.
You can also collect all the charity mailings and review them with your family to decide who to give their holiday gift to.  Perhaps donate a goat to a family in your child’s name and put a card in the tree saying so. 
On your wish list, ask that a donation be made in your name to a cause near to your heart this season so your kids know this is of value to you (as valuable as presents).
Also try to encourage acts of kindness by doing things like shoveling a neighbour’s walkway or taking a baked good to a senior who lives alone.  
To teach an attitude of charity and giving, kids need direct experience of doing for others so they can see how great it feels. That may not be in gift giving per se, but by doing anything that brings a smile to someone else.  Model the value of giving so they see you living out this value in your own life. 
And, as Marilyn Price-Mitchel of “ Roots of Empathy” says: Talk about what gifts are about by asking them curiosity questions: 
  • If gifts could talk, what would they say?
  • What gifts have you treasured most? Why?
  • What does a gift really mean?
  • If there is an art of giving, what does that art look like for you?
  • What is a gift you would never return?
  • How do you measure the value of a gift?
You can also get them on an allowance so they really are spending their own money on gifts and feel like real stake holders in the giving.  


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