SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 6, 2013

Column: 25 tips to increase holiday joy

Dr. Kate's Parent Rap
Dr. Kate Roberts

---- — The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. And, yet, regardless of whether families are intact, blended, broken-blended or single-parent families, in reality holidays can bring out a range of intense emotions in people. Here are some tips to make things easier for your family during this holiday season:

All families

Holidays are ripe for miscommunications. Practice sharing only what is kind, necessary and true.

Emphasize values of gratitude, family, giving back and the importance of moderation. Engage your family in such activities as donating toys or food to local causes or serving others in need.

Have realistic expectations. Holidays are not panaceas for disappointments and failures during the rest of the year.

Trust your judgment more than your fear. Try not to give in to your last-minute panic about not having bought “enough” food, gifts, whatever.

Emphasize etiquette as a holiday virtue to be practiced all year long. According to Emily Post, etiquette means “treating people with consideration, respect and honesty and being aware of how your actions affect those around you.”

Parents as individuals

Stick to your self-care routine.

Don’t take too much on. Just because it’s the holidays does not mean there are suddenly two of you!

Your kids still need quality time, and the good news is that engaging them in holiday projects is quality time. From ages 5 up, there are things kids can do to help; two more, even small, hands can help you.

Intact families and parents

Communicate. Nothing dampens the holidays faster than parents fighting about the expectations that weren’t met. Make time to communicate regarding the decisions and expectations about gifts, decorations, vacation time, meals and extended-family logistics.

Your partner may not have your perspective on the holidays; keep an open mind.

Don’t split your children, instead keep firm boundaries. For example, don’t badmouth your partner in front of the children no matter how much you’re tempted to or how angry you are at some decision you don’t agree with.

Don’t allow the holiday rush to monopolize romance time. That kiss under the mistletoe should not be lost!

Blended families

Be aware that blended families have the extra emotional and logistical challenges of sharing holiday time and making visitation arrangements.

Focus on what’s important. Keeping the kids happy and away from adult stress is paramount to successful holidays.

Communicate with children and stepchildren. Talk about the holidays and what they would like to happen.

Acknowledge and celebrate differences. Families come together from different backgrounds and traditions. With blended families, it’s key to integrate important cultural and religious aspects from all family members. Take the best part of different families’ traditions and unite them into a combined tradition for the new, blended family.

Be realistic. Not everyone is going to get exactly what they want in either traditional or blended families. When kids living in blended families are disappointed, remember that there is plenty of that in all families. Disappointment is fleeting for adjusted kids. Validate it, and they will move on nicely to appreciation and joy.

Time will help. The first couple of years of doing things differently will take some adjusting. Before you know it, you’ll have set new routines, transitions, expectations and memories for the blended family you have created!

Unblended and single-parent families

The holidays are difficult for children who have lost their blended or intact family. Factors that make children more resilient in the aftermath of a family breakup include the following:

Maintain stepparent-child relationships. Although there are no rules, guidelines or formal commitments, if stepparents can maintain relationships with stepchildren, this helps significantly.

Keep children out of the middle. Adults need to set boundaries for the benefit of the children who may be closest to all adults involved and who feel powerless over breakups. Children need to be reminded often that none of this is their fault.

Focus on the positive. It’s OK to be sad as a parent who has lost a blended or intact family, but try to buffer your kids from your sadness. They need you now because they have less ability and skill to manage their emotions than parents. Parents should not burden children with their emotions and risk them feeling like parent caretakers.

Anniversary reactions

The holidays can stir up anniversary reactions. These are reactions to past losses that are more present during high-intensity events like holidays and special occasions. Whether it’s the anniversary of the Newtown tragedy or other family losses, how a parent processes these losses is paramount to helping their children successfully work through them.

Be aware and acknowledge and recognize reactions to past losses within yourself and embrace signs that your children are experiencing loss and grief reactions.

Allow children to talk, and listen and acknowledge their grief. Pretending it’s not there will increase anxiety and intensity the loss. Validation of grief is the key to moving to a better, more joyful place during this holiday season.

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Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach on the North Shore. Questions can be directed to www.drkateroberts.com www.twitter.com/DrKateParenting, www.facebook.com/Dr.KateRobertsParenting or www.pinterest.com/DrKateParenting.