We are in the middle of the holiday season! It’s a busy time for all, full of fun and exciting activities with family and friends. Thoughtful planning can keep your children on track and avoid holiday meltdowns; this alone will be a gift the whole family will appreciate.
Families are delighted with invitations to fun events in the neighborhood, at school, churches, or synagogues, and with family and friends. Yes, they all look great, but pick and choose carefully. Attend the ones that mean the most to your family, and give yourself permission to gently decline the rest. You’ll enjoy the ones you do attend, and the others can wait for another year.
Find time to make and maintain your own holiday traditions. These can be simple at home activities such as baking cookies or making gifts, taking a ride to look at neighborhood light displays, caroling, or having latke parties and potlucks with special friends before they travel for the holidays. Your children will look forward to your own special rituals even more than any commercial events. It’s also a meaningful time to help children learn to think of families in need, and incorporate special giving to others into your family’s traditions.
As you decorate, consider a special note about holiday plants: Beware! Many plants that are common at this time of year are dangerous and may be deadly, especially to small children and pets. Poinsettia plants will cause stomachaches and vomiting if ingested. They are botanically related to rubber trees, so a special note of caution is indicated for those with latex allergies.
Mistletoe, while romantic and lovely to look at, has poisonous berries. Make sure if it is in your home it is high out of reach of children and pets, and not dropping berries. The same is true for holly: its berries are poisonous and its leaves are toxic. Keep them all away from little ones and your pets. Better yet, buy plastic alternatives and recycle them annually while there are small children in your home!
Many families take off to visit far away family over the holidays. Remember that no one is as careful as you are with accident-proofing. It’s easy enough to pack a few outlet covers and cabinet safety latches to help make your host’s home safer. Be especially careful in the homes of elderly relatives, and make sure their medication boxes are far out of reach.
While traveling, and even if you’re staying home for the holidays, try as much as possible to keep your children on their usual nap and bedtime schedules. Better-rested children make better guests and are certainly much more charming! Talk with your pediatrician about ways to cope with jet lag, crossing time zones, and other travel-related health concerns, especially if you are traveling internationally.
Grownup gatherings may not always have food that appeals to little appetites, so bring along a few of your children’s favorites. The same goes for travel and the inevitable delays; who wants to be stuck in an airport with a cranky, tired and hungry toddler?
These hints are useful for holidays that you might celebrate with friends and family around the year, including Diwali and Ramadan. Small children love being a part of family gatherings and parties, and with some careful forethought you can help them enjoy the best of your traditions. Wishing you and your family a very happy, healthy, and safe holiday season as you celebrate together!
Lisa Dobberteen, M.D., a practicing pediatrician and an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, is coauthor, with Margaret and Richard Thomas, of Love and Limits In and Out of Child Care: What Your Child Care Provider and Your Pediatrician Want You to Know.