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Take the Stress Out of Santa Season

Children can get just as frazzled as their parents during the holidays, leading to insomnia, tummy aches, and temper tantrums. Here, eight easy, expert-recommended ways to ensure a happy, healthy holiday for the entire family.

Keep Them Posted on Big Plans

Change is unsettling no matter your age: Would you want to trade your bed for a cot so Uncle Ira can be comfortable? Nope, and neither does your little one. So when her life is about to be disrupted, give her a heads-up, but without making too big a deal about it. That in itself can whip up worry by making her think something must be wrong, says Martin. "Instead, start by providing a truthful reason for the change that makes sense to your children," she suggests. For example, explain that Uncle Ira has a bad back and needs a soft mattress. Then point out what won't change. ("We'll put your favorite sheets on the cot, and you can still play in your room during the day.")

Fall Back on Routine

"Kids crave structure because it's soothing when they can predict what's going to happen next," notes Martin. But impromptu gatherings and unexpected houseguests make sticking to every routine nearly impossible. "Instead, aim to keep at least some aspect of the routines your child is accustomed to," says Martin. For instance, if you can't tuck them in at their regular time, keep up at least one typical pre-bed ritual, like a bedtime story or a glass of warm milk. "This lends focus to the chaos," says Martin. "Kids know that no matter what else is going on, this is something they can count on."

Give Them Freedom to Frolic

"Overscheduling activities can lead to tense and anxious kids," notes Ruth Peters, Ph.D., a child and adolescent psychologist based in Clearwater, FL. And since stress over a prolonged period taxes the immune system, it may even result in physical ailments, such as colds or flu. "Set aside two hours each day for kids to be kids, and avoid scheduling back-to-back or even daily holiday activities," suggests Peters. Also, consider getting a babysitter for at least some of the adult events you know they won't enjoy — for example, the kind where they have to dress up or keep quiet for too long.

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