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5 Secrets to Happier Holidays

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Tis the season to be jolly — and stretched way too thin, what with all the shopping, prepping, and family obligating. So how can we tame the beasts of stuff and conflict, of travel and spending, so that we can get back to comfort and joy? Here’s how, your merriest month awaits!:

1: Simplify your priorities: the holidays brings loads of togetherness, in a more-the-merrier kind of way. But sometimes it can feel like too much of a good thing. To get a handle on the overload, a “values clarification” exercise can help you feel more in control. First, ask yourself what your top priorities are this month, then write them all down. For example, “being with family as much as possible, eggnog, spirituality, an absence of fruit cake, stress-free joy. Now the hard part: Cross them off until you are left with the single value (or two, if you really can’t choose) that is your absolute priority. The point here is to focus on what you care most about. Now you can ask yourself how you can arrange the season to be true to this one value as much as possible. If being with relatives is most important, say, then maybe you have to give up stress-free joy — and that’s okay. The end result of this exercise: you realize that you’re making a choice, and you don’t have to feel resentful about it.

2: Manage relatives’ expectations: Alas, the conflict — between the desire to be home and the pressure to visit — is as widespread as tinsel. If being home is your most cherished value (see #1) — more than, say, avoiding conflict — then you have no choice but to come clean. Some recommendations include, “I think think year we’re going to try something different.” If relatives complain, tell them: “Children should wake up in their own home on Christmas.” Offer an eve instead or a different occasion altogether to spread out the warm holiday feelings.

3: Take the focus off gift giving: From gag mugs to random electronics, a get-together can feel more like a tag sale gone awry than a gathering of loved ones — to say nothing of the mall whirlwhind that came before and the bills that come after. You can tone down the craziness with these less consuming ways to celebrate:

– Establish a one-person/one-gift tradition: start at Thanksgiving by putting everyone’s name in a hat, matching kids with kids and adults with adults.
– Whip up giftable treats that can be enjoyed, then (phew) gone.
– Give a single gift for the group to a enjoy: a board game, say, or a puzzle.
– Ask relatives about their favorite tradition and then commit to doing it with them (to shift away from things). You might be surprised, it may be something simple and special like caroling or watching a silly movie.

4: Tame toy lust: One the one hand, we worry that we’re spoiling our kids with more than they need, more than we can afford, more than our house can hold; on the other, we want our kids to get what their little hearts desire. What’s the happy medium? Try one of these approaches:

-Lose the list: instead of encouraging your child to spool out an endless tally of wanted items, ask her about the one or two things she might most like to receive.
-Start stuff-less traditions: The Hanukkah menorah and Christmas tree do this already, of course, but consider adding household favorites: a night spent in sleeping bags under the tree or eggnog with breakfast. It’s nice to be able to indulge the kids over the course of the season with a focus on experiences rather than things.

5: Defuse drama: Large yuletide gatherings and family tensions go together like figgy and pudding. Luckily, kids don’t know that stressful family dinners are a cliche. And, ideally, yours will be too awash in seasonal cheer to notice that drama is sucking all the air out of the room. But what if they do? You need to put your own oxygen mask on first, at least emotionally. Depending on the situation, you might need to take some deep breaths, or go for a walk, or take your child off for some one-on-one play time if she’s distressed. Also give kids a heads-up. “People can get stressed around the holidays or when they’re with relatives,” you can say. “But we spend time together because they’re important to us, and we love them, even though they’re not perfect.” Luckily, nobody is.

Modified from: Scholastic Parent & Child (Newmann, JAN 2014)

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