Head Off Holiday Havoc


Your calendar is cluttered with holiday parties, office get-togethers, school pageants and travel arrangements, all blocked out in color-coded marker. You’ve squeezed in a few nights of baking, wrapping, cleaning and entertaining. But have you planned any quiet family time into the hubbub of the holidays this year?

Family parties, travel and holiday activities intended for celebrating the season often create extra stress, pressure and anxiety, especially in children. “Many supposedly ‘fun’ scheduled activities are anything but fun. They are tense, pressured time when a child is expected to perform,” says Alvin Rosenfeld, author of four books, including The Overscheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap.

In adults, unrealistic expectations, financial limitations, family obligations and overindulging create extra stress. Pressures to make memories and fulfill the holiday desires of children during the season can turn celebrations into chores and cause depression, fatigue and frustration.

The phrase “holiday downtime” may seem like an oxymoron, but vacation days and school breaks need to be just that — mental and physical breaks from life’s pressures.

“Family life should not be overloaded with chores and commitments that add unnecessary resentment to daily life. If your family is too busy to hang out together, if you and your spouse hardly even spend time alone together as a couple, adjustments need to be made,” says Rosenfeld, who adds that restful time together talking, taking walks or playing games is essential for families.

Put some “holiday downtime” at the top of your wish list this year to ensure a happier, healthier holiday season. Here are some suggestions, from the Mental Health Association and other sources, of ways to incorporate the fun of the holidays with low-key activities you and your family will enjoy as fully as festive holiday parties.

Be cozy, not crazy. Don’t let the season pass without planning a day to listen to holiday music and cozy up with some popcorn, hot cider and each other. Pull out the sofa bed and watch an old movie or dig up some home videos of years past. Designate a PJ Day and hang around in your flannels and fuzzy slippers. Stay inside and play a board game, work on a family scrapbook or just take a nap.

Enjoy the quiet sparkle of the season. Instead of crowded holiday events, pack some cookies and hot cocoa to go and take a nighttime drive through your neighborhood to “ooh” and “ahh” at the holiday decorations. It’s free, fun and festive.

Pick and choose. There are parties at work, at school, at church and in the neighborhood, but you don’t have to go to every one. You’ll save money, lower stress and find it easier to schedule downtime if you attend just two or three events that mean the most to you.

Eat well, cook less. Save your energy for the holiday meals you are committed to and use other meal times as an excuse to order in or take out. Don’t be afraid to make frozen pizza a new Christmas Eve tradition in your family if you’ve planned on cooking a big dinner the next day.

If decorating cookies is a favorite event in your home, cut the work in half by buying pre-made dough or better yet, already-baked cookies and letting the sprinkles and icing and tasting begin.

Downtime doesn’t always mean together time. Mom may be reading the paper while Dad is watching a movie and Junior is playing with his new racetrack. Just being together in the same house can be comforting and relaxing.

Unplug, disconnect and turn off the ringer. Sometimes disconnecting from the world may be the best way to guarantee a little family peace. Resist the urge to turn on the television or computer, and once you’ve wished everyone a happy holiday, turn off the phone and restrain from checking your messages until the following day. You might be amazed at the high-quality rest you can get from a low-tech day.

Sharon Miller Cindrich is a mother of two who frequently writes about parenting, technology and family activities.

Categories: Seasonal Fun, Winter