Expert Tips on Handling Holiday Havoc - MetroFamily Magazine
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Expert Tips on Handling Holiday Havoc

by Brooke Barnett

Reading Time: 7 minutes 

Do the visions of sugarplums dancing in your head get flattened by your massive “To Do” list each holiday season? Does the dream of a perfect white Christmas have you seeing red when it comes to dealing with family schedules? If your holiday travels have you wishing for your own private sleigh (with no children allowed) or if your kids are more interested in gifts than gratitude, we are here to help.

We took 10 issues common to the holiday season and asked our panel of experts to weigh in with practical tips and solutions. By reducing your stress and strengthening your resolve, these tips can help you to create genuine joy with your family and friends during this festive time.

Seasonal Stressor #1: How can I get everything done, but still have time to enjoy special family moments?

Remember that it’s okay to ask for help. Especially if everything on the “To Do” list is not necessarily kid-friendly, ask someone else to take care of your children while you tackle certain tasks. Then, when you are with your children, you can be more relaxed and truly enjoy those holiday moments.
Also, prioritize the list. Differentiate between “nice to do” and “must do” items. What’s more important? Getting every little thing done and being a frazzled mess or focusing on the most meaningful activities and being your best self?
In short, don’t try to do it all. Once you’ve prioritized your list and separated out the “must do” from the “nice to do” things, give yourself permission to occasionally leave the kids with a caring childcare provider so that you—and they—have a happier, less stressful holiday season.

Karin Dallas is the owner of College Nannies & Tutors of Edmond. Visit

Seasonal Stressor #2: My husband and I are divorced. Any tips on how to share time between both sides of the family, without pulling our kids in every direction?

First, be flexible. Let go of the fantasy of having the perfect “White Christmas.” Think outside the box, be creative, and start developing new traditions for your family. Second, change expectations. Try not to make your definition of a successful holiday as having your family spending one certain day or evening together. Instead, focus on special moments whenever they happen. Finally, be patient. New traditions are not created over night or over one holiday season. Try to implement some new traditions this year, reevaluate and renegotiate next year, and the next, until you come up with something that is enjoyable and comfortable for your family. Trade important days and times like Christmas morning so that each family gets every other year.

Vicki Reynolds is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Oklahoma City. Visit

Seasonal Stressor #3: Our son has recently discovered Santa isn’t real. How do I keep him from telling our younger daughter?

Remind your son that Santa is more about the fun and excitement of the season, and encourage him to think about how that spirit of giving can extend beyond your home. Reminisce about holiday memories and encourage him to keep that joy alive for his younger siblings as long as possible.
When your younger children sit down to write annual letters to Santa, grab your older children and join in the fun. Give a knowing wink and enjoy the excitement of sharing dreams with Santa, as well as how that spirit of giving can spread throughout your family and community.

Suzy Martyn is an author, speaker, educator, and parenting consultant. Visit

Seasonal Stressor #4: My husband and I come from two different faiths. How do we combine traditions to help make a meaningful holiday for us all?

You and your husband have already completed the first step to creating a meaningful holiday by deciding that you want your children to learn about each faith.
One of the trickiest questions to answer is where you are going to celebrate. If you live near both of your extended families, it is important to decide with whom you are going to celebrate. This is a challenging decision even for couples that are of the same faith.
Next, take inventory of the most important lessons each of you would like your children to experience. You can do this by sharing with each other what brought you the most joy when you celebrated as a child and make a commitment to incorporate that into your holiday. Once you know what you would really like to share, look for similarities. Are there common dates or traditions? Start with things you have in common and build from there.

Brenda Trott, M.Ed. is a parenting coach who has worked with young children and families. Visit

Seasonal Stressor #5: My teenager has recently become a vegetarian. What can I cook for him?

Traditional holiday foods offer a lot in the way of vegetarian-friendly fare. Think of classic side dishes that accompany the turkey and are usually meat free, such as mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans and bread. If you usually stuff your turkey with dressing or put meat-based broth in it, cook it on the side or use vegetable broth instead. Add a dish that features portabello mushrooms or a salad with garbanzo beans in it for added protein.

Christa Carretero is the Founder and Chef of Cooking Girl, an Oklahoma City-based professional chef service that offers cooking classes and gourmet to-go meals. Visit

Seasonal Stressor #6: We experienced a death in our immediate family this year. How do I help my children celebrate the holidays despite our loss?

Even when family members feel they are coping well enough, facing the holidays without a loved one can intensify feelings of loss and grief. Consider traditions you have honored in the past and then decide which ones you want to continue to celebrate now. Involve family members in these discussions.
Sometimes making changes eases the pain. Lighting a candle, having a brief reading or writing something that celebrates the life of the one who died may help your family. Young children often enjoy drawing a picture. If you have always hosted the holiday dinner at your house, consider asking another relative to host it this year and offer to bring some of the favorite traditional dishes you always served. Remember, give yourself permission to let some of the past responsibilities go and be willing to ask for help from relatives and friends when you need it.

Maribeth Govin is Program Director at Calm Water Center for Children and Families in Oklahoma City. Visit

Seasonal Stressor #7: How do I keep my house from become a total wreck during the holidays?

  • Decorate accordingly. Resist the temptation to bring out every holiday clearance knick-knack in your collection. Store some year-round decorations to make room for holiday trimmings.
  • Designate hiding spots. Cute baskets or bins for storing toys and homework allow you to quickly pick up entire piles and set them aside for later.
  • Clean as you go. Every time you walk from one room in the house to another, pick something up and put it away. Wipe down the sink or toilet when you’re in the bathroom.
  • Prioritize. Determine which areas in the house guests will see or will make you feel most sane if they’re clean, and keep that area clutter and mess-free to the best of your ability.
  • Set a timer. Limit your cleaning time to a set time (15 minutes or an hour) and see how much you can do in that time.
  • Adjust expectations. The holidays are meant to be a time when happy memories are made. Don’t let the stress of how your home looks override the fun you are having with those who are in it with you.

Alexandra Kuykendall is the Editor of Mom and Leader Content for MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers). Visit

Seasonal Stressor #8: How do I teach my kids about the true meaning of the season, and that it’s not just about the gifts?

Here are three quick suggestions to help you bring back the true meaning in your home.

  1. Set the tone. Make sure the activities and traditions you are choosing have the message you want to send. For example, skip the letter to Santa asking for toys and substitute it for a tradition of collecting food, clothing, or toys for those less fortunate.
  2. Limit television exposure. Choose shows and movies with messages important to you. Also try muting TV commercials so that your kids aren’t constantly bombarded with ads.
  3. Keep it simple. Simplicity is probably the easiest way for parents to reinforce the true meaning of Christmas, so cut back on gifts, expensive outings, and extravagant decorations and load up on quiet evenings at home playing games and making your own gifts and decorations.

Polly Schlafhauser is the founder of and author of the free eBook, 8 Weeks to a Frazzle Free Christmas.

Seasonal Stressor #9: How do I reduce stress while traveling for the holidays?

The key to making travel with the kids easier, especially during the rush and crunch of the holidays, is to be prepared and be early.

  • Pack early and make checklists to ensure nothing is left behind.
  • If flying, book early flights to try to avoid delays and arrive at the airport early. Use online check in to confirm seats together. Prepare children for what to expect at security and in-flight, especially if they’ve never flown before.
  • Send gifts ahead to avoid hassles at security. It might be cheaper than your baggage fees!
  • If driving, build in extra time for pit stops and traffic snarls that will inevitably occur. Use rest areas to help kids burn off energy.
  • Have a bag for each child with games, books, activities and snacks to keep them occupied.
  • Charge your electronics before you leave and don’t forget to bring chargers along with you.
  • Ensure necessary prescriptions are filled before you leave and carry an adequate supply along with you.

Lissa Poirot is editor of, a family travel website that offers comprehensive family travel tips, vacation ideas, reviews and family travel deals.

Seasonal Stressor #10: I always seem to have a let-down after all the holiday excitement is over. How can I plan now to start the new year on an upswing?

First, try to tame the upswing of intensity during the holiday season by filtering out all non-essential activities for your family. As much as possible, focus on tasks having to do with service to others and those that have meaning to your family.
Once the holidays have passed, plan a fun activity like a family game night, prepare dinner together and enjoy an evening of fun. This is a simple but fun way to create meaningful memories for the whole family.
Consider having a clean out day to gather toys, books and clothes to donate. Make a family visit to a local charity to donate the items. It's a good lesson in service to others and can help your child realize how fortunate they are to have what they do.

Anastasia Gavalas is a mother, author, educational consultant and speaker. Visit

Whatever your holiday entails, we hope these tips will help bring you a joyous and peaceful season.

Brooke Barnett is the Assistant Editor of MetroFamily Magazine.

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