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Holidays don’t have to be stressful

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Submitted by Rita M. Hodges

County Extension Agent-Family & Consumer Sciences Texas AgriLife Extension Service

Having a “holly, jolly Christmas” can be one thing; having a sane and calm one can be another. Having a combination of the two may not be as difficult as you think.

The end-of-the-year holiday season can be overwhelming, especially if children are involved—just ask anyone with a bank account and/or a credit card! But a little advance planning and family communication can solve that problem, according to Dr. Rick Peterson, Extension parenting specialist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

One of the things parents and grandparents need to look at is priorities for them in relation to the holidays and gift giving.

If cutting back on spending is a priority this year, look for ways to do that without completely eliminating the holiday from the family calendar.

If being with loved ones is more of a priority than buying expensive presents, perhaps a trip to visit relatives would be a welcome gift from the entire family.

For older adults, the gift of time is really important. Go visit—stay connected with older family members. Some may not want a gift, but they certainly want family and friends around. Instead of buying presents for everyone, draw names; each member of the family is responsible for one gift instead of dozens.

Exchange ‘white elephant’ gifts with friends and loved ones. These could be odd or unwanted items that you already own, so no extra money is involved. Besides, giving silly and/or impractical gifts is a great way to bring laughter and fun into a gathering.

Eliminate expenses where possible. You may decide the time, effort, and money to send Christmas cards is too much.

After establishing priorities, it’s time to set realistic expectations. Limited financial resources means a more limited gift giving season, which can be difficult on children, especially if Christmases past were more lavish. But it can also be the perfect opportunity to teach them about giving to others.

For example, choose a name from a local “angel tree.” These efforts pair donors with children who would otherwise have no gifts at all.

Other charitable agencies provide food baskets for needy families during the holidays. It would not take much effort to take children grocery shopping and let them pick out items for their donated food basket, with a heavy emphasis on the children’s favorites.

Parents can take advantage of these opportunities to teach children about giving, particularly to those who are less fortunate. This help children become more aware of the needs of others and promotes the idea that giving to others is a worthwhile cause.

For young children, it helps them to look outside of themselves which is a key concept in their social and emotional development. This in turn teaches them about the joys of giving and not just getting.

Encourage children to make gifts for loved ones. Making ornaments for the tree or cookies for family and friends gives them a literal hands-on involvement in the festivities. Grandparents and parents are especially thrilled to be recipients of a child’s creativity.

This belt-tightening may not be appreciated by the younger generation and might also come with a boat-load of guilt for parents, but it will pay off in the long run.

In today’s society sometimes it is difficult to say ‘no’ to a child when others are getting high-dollar gifts. However, parents need to be able to set limits and boundaries for their children and deal with the sometimes unrealistic gift expectations.

Too often children—and adults—have a set of holiday wishes that just won’t happen. Parents need to be open and honest about why this year is different or why some changes are happening. Explain the reasons why the family’s holiday celebrations aren’t going to be as lavish as they have been in the past. Let the kids express their feelings on the matter.

Involving kids in the decision-making process can make it easier. If your family is planning to cut back, ask each family member what they would be willing to forgo or what they would be willing to cut back on this year.

Having a family discussion and communicating clearly what the family’s priorities are can go a long way in dealing with unrealistic expectations and possibly hurt feelings.

Finally, sometimes you need to be able to say ‘no’ as a way of taking care of yourself.

With the financial obligations—and the family’s wish list—more under control, holidays really can be happy AND sane. And, the stress level will be lower.

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