SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 22, 2013

Column: Communication and planning can make for a great holiday season

Dr. Kate's Parent Rap
Dr. Kate Roberts

---- — Holidays are a time we look forward to all year round. I remember last year the day after Christmas when my younger son asked me, “Mom when is Christmas coming again? How long is it from now?” I had to love the question and the answer. For me, it was a relief that we all got through it safely, with cheer and without breaking the bank. Here are some facts and tips to help parents plan for the best holiday season.

Shopping and gift giving

Holiday shopping can be stressful for you and your bank account. It begins with the highly anticipated Black Friday stampede, followed by the quest to get the kiddies everything on their list.

According to the National Retail Federation, holiday sales are expected to increase 3.9 percent to $602 billion in 2013. The Consumer Electronics Association reports 37 percent of Americans will brave the Black Friday crowds.

When shopping during the holidays with kids, safety is the most important thing. If parents have to bring their kids along, they should think about safety and how to manage children in a busy shopping situation.

Shopping safety tips

Use the stroller/carriage whenever possible because it’s easy to contain packages and your child

Supervise your child at all times, including bathroom visits

Have your safety talk with your child before he or she gets to the mall

Take your child into fitting rooms even if you have to wait for oversized ones that will fit the entire family

Parents need to communicate upfront and agree on the shopping plan both in terms of logistics and safety on Black Friday or any holiday shopping day. Also, they should agree on budget and appropriate toys.

Plan to park far away from congestion and walk; tell your kids in advance of the plan and the safety rules in a busy parking lot or street

Part of the safety talk should include not talking to strangers — even ones that are nice and seem friendly and just want to share holiday cheer

Remind children of basic etiquette, including not pushing, shoving, running and being mindful of store objects

Make it safer and more fun by wearing bright colors that will help you identify them and them identify you.

Tell them what to do in case they do get separated and where to go

Be organized, have a plan and limit the shopping time. If possible, try to avoid exposing your children to a lot of holiday shopping. Children really aren’t shoppers by nature, and it’s tedious and difficult for them to behave well in that situation.

In terms of curbing the shopping craze, how much do you spend or give?

If your children are quite demanding at the holidays, don’t buy into the idea that you need to get them more presents, as that will probably just exacerbate the problem.

If your children are really young, you have a golden opportunity. Children are not born with an instinctive set of holiday expectations, so you can set the bar exactly where you want it. You can decide how many presents you want to give and how much money you want to spend.

Be united with your partner on giving expectations. Nothing ruins the holidays faster than parents fighting about the gifts the kids received.

Give the gift of time, not just things and money. Extra time will mean a lot more than extra presents.

Regardless of your income, limit the focus on gifts and shift the attention to appreciation for family. Demonstrate gratitude for what you share together as a family.

Teach children moderation. Have them make a list of priorities for what kind of gifts they want and pick one or two that you feel are reasonable and within your budget.

If you have a limited budget, set expectations ahead of time. Make sure that your children understand that not every family is identical when it comes to income and how much they can spend on the holidays.

Regardless of what kids communicate, remember that their main priority is being connected to their family. Parents don’t have to worry that their children are going to be slighted by fewer gifts if they have a strong connection and bond with parents and family members.

Although they often cannot express it, children do appreciate sacrifices parents make in order to provide for their children at the holidays. Children may also demonstrate disappointment if they don’t receive all the gifts they expected. Recognize that this is fleeting and accept that you did the best you could. A child’s disappointment can easily turn to joy after some quality one-on-one time with a loving parent.

Parents can think about big-ticket items that are especially a bargain on shopping holidays like Black Friday. These can serve as one big family present, and they can get individual, smaller presents for the children. This is one way to stay within the budget and unite the family around one main family toy.

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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.KateRoberts or www.pinterest.com/DrKateParenting.