Parenting with a PhD: Scheduling and Holidays, Helping your Kids Avoid the Holi-Daze

featured, to live — By on December 5, 2011 at 7:15 am

By Kristen Berthiaume

I know what you’re thinking: you’ll sleep when the holidays are over. But, now that Christmas trees go up as soon as jack-o-lanterns are tossed on the compost pile, the holiday season has never been longer. Or busier. Burning the candle at both ends so you can soak up every second may have worked in the pre-parenting days but your kids don’t make the day-to-evening transition quite as smoothly as your LBD. Here are some ideas for helping your family be dazzled but not dazed by the holiday season.

The first and most important step is to compare calendars so there won’t be any last minute surprises. Put everything on the table so there’s likely to be at least one holiday event each family member will enjoy. If you need more options, check sites like the Weekly Events Calendar for family-friendly events.

Once you’ve taken stock of all the possibilities (and it’s important to see them as possibilities at this stage, not obligations), talk as a family about what’s most essential for each person to make the holiday special. Is going store-to-store with list in hand the only way to jumpstart the season for you? Does your spouse/partner love parties but have no patience for baking? Will your daughter attend to every decorating detail at home but melt down around a lot of people? Take into account everyone’s preferences and create a tentative schedule (key word: tentative) for the season. Then, consider some of the following factors and make changes as needed:

Does this schedule allow everyone to get adequate rest? Try to maintain the regular bedtime schedule, even when the kids are out of school. Most can handle going to bed a half hour later but for children who won’t sleep in the next morning, staying up presents a problem. If you’re going to an event that will require you to be out late, hire a sitter. Well-rested kids: It should be on your Wish List.

Does this schedule allow you to fit in mealtimes? Make sure you and the kids power up between activities and do your best to plan for actual meals, not just quick snacks on the go. Keep in mind that most holiday gatherings offer a fair amount of junk food so fit in the healthy stuff (broccoli Christmas trees?) when possible.

Does this schedule allow time for home work and homework? Most of us don’t feel good when we’re behind on the laundry (don’t look in my basement) and teachers won’t accept missing homework because your child was at a pajama party with Santa. Make sure there’s plenty of downtime for catching up on the things you do every day of your real life. Keep in mind that your kids may need extra homework time near the end of the semester if they have exams or projects.

Does this schedule take into account your family’s financial resources? Relevant health issues? Have you factored in preparation time (Dinner for 30? No problem!) in addition to the events themselves? Most importantly: Does thinking about doing all these activities excite you or leave you feeling drained? If it’s the latter, you have more culling to do.

Some final thoughts: Remember that it’s O.K. to say no. Your real friends will understand if you just can’t make it. Those who get angry at you? Re-think those relationships. You can’t do it all. Trying will only make you dread the holiday season. Send e-cards, go with store-bought (Oh, the horror!), take a break from hosting. And, for goodness sake, go easy on the wrapping – it’s just going to get ripped off anyway.

Once your family’s holiday schedule looks fun and manageable, post it where all can see. But, consider it a work in progress. Use it as a guide but don’t be hesitant to make additions, substitutions, or deletions, as needed. Be prepared to leave an event early or skip it entirely if it proves too demanding for your family. In truth, the holidays should be a time to gather and enjoy being together. Too many activities, even when attended as a group, detract greatly from the overall experience. Even worse, an overscheduled holiday can lead to stressed out parents and children, which is a memory no one will treasure for years to come. Your kids will enjoy the holidays much more if they are spent with relaxed parents, regardless of which activities you do (or don’t!) choose. I wish you all a Happy, Low-Stress Holiday Season!

About this column: Send your parenting- and kid-related questions my way via email at: and I’ll tell you what I can: Please be aware that email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information so it’s best to keep your questions general. If your question is featured, your name and email will not be published. Submitting a question does not constitute a professional relationship in any way and this column is not meant to substitute for face-to-face therapy. If you feel  you’re doing the best you can and still need help, it may be time to bring in a professional. Start by talking with your child’s pediatrician to get a referral.

Kristen S. Berthiaume, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

Kristen Berthiaume is a clinical psychologist with Grayson and Associates.  She obtained her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Kentucky. She completed a predoctoral internship in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a post- doctoral fellowship in the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) Program at Duke University Medical Center.

She specializes in providing assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families dealing with the following issues:
learning disorders
social skill deficits
organizational problems
behavioral difficulties

She generally focuses on behavioral and cognitive- behavioral techniques, but maintains a flexible approach to therapy. Her other day job is as mom to her four-year-old daughter and 20-month-old son.

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