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Parenting Tips for the Holidays

Parenting tips can help ease the stress of the holidays.
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WebMD Feature

You know the drill: The "gimmes," the sugar meltdowns, the "are we there yets?" Then there is the awkward problem of divorce and how to apportion time and attention. Kids reach a high pitch of excitement and sometimes invent surprising new behaviors that require your best holiday parenting skills.

"Parents should start with their own expectations," advises Susan Newman, PhD, a social psychology professor at Rutgers University in News Brunswick, NJ, and author of Make Your Children Feel Special Everyday, tells WebMD. "Some parents want to be sure their children get everything they want so there will be no tears. This is an unrealistic goal. Parents, especially with younger kids get lost in the hype."

Don't try to please everyone, Newman continues. Someone -- a parent, grandparent or in-law --will be unhappy. But, as a rule, the children will not be -- and it's the little things that they will remember, like time spent playing a board game or teaching you to operate their toys. "We played Chutes and Ladders last Christmas with my older kids," Newman says, "and it was so funny!"

Give the Pleasure of Giving

"Children will model your behavior," Newman says. "If you bake for the homeless shelter (and they help) or if you visit people in the hospital, they will remember that. These patterns stick."

"I like cooking with kids," Bunni Tobias, host of the syndicated radio show, Solutions for Simple Sanity, tells WebMD. "At my house, each child has a specialty, one was King of Cookies; one was on top of the veggies." Over time, each household develops a list of favorite holiday cookies and treats -- these are repeated each year.

Many schools and churches have programs for kids to make gifts or contribute to the less fortunate -- you can suggest some of the kids' allowance be used, instead of just a handout from dad.

Children can also help wrap presents -- so what if they aren't straight out of Vogue? "Kids have to see that everything doesn't come from a store," Newman says. Wrapping also creates a sense of excitement and is a good time to talk.

Making gifts is also a good way to give kids a deeper sense of the holidays. Going to the craft store, planning a project, and gathering around to make things is also a good time for parents to give kids extra attention. So often the holidays involve grown-ups reuniting and catching up -- kids get shunted to the sidelines.

Tobias recommends that children should be encouraged to make their own wish lists -- but to also describe why they want each item, to think a little. This way, parents can gently modify expectations before the fateful unwrapping.

Start Your Own Traditions

Besides joking about Mom's annual nervous breakdown, you can start some other traditions:

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