10 Mistakes Parents Make During the Holidays
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Seasonal Slips1 of 11
By Alison Singh Gee
When you're a parent facing the mad crush of family dinners, holiday travel, rampant shopping, mounting debt and kids, it’s not hard to feel a little un-jolly and stressed out. During the holidays, you’re bound to make a few questionable decisions, especially where your little ones are involved. We asked child psychologist Dr. Lisa Staab Shadburn and social psychologist Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day for their advice.
1. The Santa Ploy2 of 11
Goof Up: You constantly warn your kids that "Santa's watching you" and use presents as leverage for good behavior.
Fix Up: "There's nothing wrong with using reinforcers to motivate children to behave well, but I recommend setting clear expectations for good behavior (such as following directions, being respectful, and being kind to siblings), and focusing on positives," says Shadburn. Instead of using Santa as a threat, try: "Santa is going to be so happy that you cleaned your room."
2. Believe It or Not3 of 11
Goof Up: You insist that Santa is real, even after your kids' friends have outted him as a myth.
Fix Up: Questions about Santa's existence are inevitable, often surfacing when a child is between 6 and 9 years old, says Dr. Shadburn. "Instead of insisting that he's real, let your child know that a lot of people have different beliefs about Santa, and ask him what he thinks. If your child has younger siblings or cousins, you can help him feel special by enlisting him to help carry on the tradition with little ones."
3. Gifting Gone Crazy4 of 11
Goof Up: You bought your kids lavish presents, maxing out your plastic to do so.
Fix Up: "It is highly likely that your children, no matter what their age, will latch onto the inexpensive gifts you stuffed in their stockings rather than the costly ones you will be paying for for months," says Newman. As for older kids, try managing expectations instead of breaking the bank. "If your child has a big-ticket item in mind, make it clear that is all he will be getting," says Newman.
4. Quality Time5 of 11
Goof Up: You occupy yourself so much with the trappings of Christmas—getting the tree, shopping for presents, sending out cards—you forget to spend special time with your child.
Fix Up: "Take time for holiday traditions, such as baking cookies, reading holiday books, or my favorite—going for a family walk to look at holiday lights," says Dr. Shadburn. If you find your to-do list getting out of control, you may have to prioritize and cut back on something (like deciding you don't need to mail out 100 Christmas cards) in order to focus on what really matters.
5. Pet Project6 of 11
Goof Up: You gave your young child a puppy or kitten for Christmas, and expected them to take care of it. Of course, that didn't happen, and now you're upset.
Fix Up: Before giving such a high-maintenance gift, make sure that you and your child are both ready for the responsibility, says Dr. Shadburn. "If you decide to go ahead with the furry gift, be sure you have realistic expectations about the situation. You can give your young child small responsibilities (such as filling the water bowl), but be prepared to do the majority of the pet care yourself."
6. Trash Talk7 of 11
Goof Up: In anticipation of a big family gathering, you've bad-mouthed other members of your clan while your kids may have been listening.
Fix Up: "If you have already said something negative, let your child know you realize that wasn't very nice, and try to find something positive to say about the person," says Dr. Shadburn. "By making an effort to be respectful to others in front of your children, you will model respect and tolerance, and show ways to calm rather than fueling the fires of family conflict."
7. Schlep Fest8 of 11
Goof Up: You promised three relatives that you'll be at their house for holiday dinner and then proceeded to schlep your kids all over town to make it to every event.
Fix Up: "A calmer more pleasant approach is to spread the holiday over a few weekends," says Newman. "Visit one set of relatives the weekend before Christmas, one on Christmas Eve or Day, and another one night or afternoon during the week. Although spreading the holiday out may break some long-held traditions, everyone will, in the end, adjust and have a calmer, more pleasant holiday gathering."
8. Keeping Up Appearances9 of 11
Goof Up: You expect too much of your children, such as sitting through a two-hour family dinner in their stiff holiday clothes, or expecting them to kiss and hug Aunt Daisy when they can't remember who she is.
Fix Up: "Let the kids be kids. Insist they be polite, but don't ask them to act like mini-adults when they are children," says Newman.
9. Lack of Gratitude10 of 11
Goof Up: You were visibly upset about the Ginsu Knives your husband gave to you for Christmas. And he actually thought you'd love them!
Fix Up: You don't always have to love the gifts you get, but you can model and teach your children from an early age how to be grateful and respectful, says Dr. Shadburn. "When given a gift, make sure your child hears you say thank you," she says. "Point out the effort that the giver put into choosing the gift by saying something like, 'Daddy picked out this special gift just for me because he knows I like to cook.'"
10. Material World11 of 11
Goof Up: You forgot to teach your kids the value of giving, rather than receiving.
Fix Up: It's important to remind your children how lucky they are to have so much, Newman reminds us. "Involve them in clearing out toys they no longer use and donating them to those less fortunate," she says. "Whenever you give away clothing to a homeless shelter or other charity, be sure the children are aware of your concern for others. Your acts of caring will 'rub off' on them."
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