Holiday Stress

Q. The holidays are coming and I'm filled with dread over the parties, the visitors, the baking, school plays, etc. I find myself gritting my teeth before Halloween and not breathing a sigh of relief until after the New Year. My kids get tired and whiny and misbehave, which just makes matters worse. Help!

A. The holidays are filled with stress. We want to be hospitable, cheerful, and spiritually focused on Jesus, but in reality we are busy, sleep-deprived, and financially strapped. Here are a some ideas you can implement to pare down the busyness of the season.

Have a couple's conference:

Begin by sitting down with your spouse before Thanksgiving and deciding which people and events are most important to your family this holiday season. As you look through the list, eliminate the less-important events.

Plan for family time:

Block out one day of each weekend in November and December to keep unscheduled. Guard these days for the good of your family. If you can't manage to block a full day each weekend, block out two half-days. Once your calendar is full, schedule any remaining "get-togethers" for January, when the calendar is more open and kids need interesting things to do.

Empathize with your kids:

If you're feeling tired, so are your kids. When they get crabby from over-stimulation, take them away from the activities and say, "I'm feeling tired. I bet you're feeling tired right now, too." Your child will probably agree.

If you can, let her take a break from the action by retreating to her room, even if you have company. If you're out and about, remind her of the next quiet time in the day and the upcoming family day during the weekend.

Don't host unless you want to:

If you have small children (7 and under), I recommend you avoid hosting a family event. Ask a parent or a sibling with older children to host, but offer to bring a dish or help with the day's cooking and cleanup. Some people feel pressured to host because they are the only Christians in the family and they want to make sure the celebrations focus on Christ. But being a stressed-out host will only brew resentment and tension, and your kids will react to that. God understands the physical and emotional demands of young children, so let others help.

Set spiritual goals:

Meet as a family and ask each person how he wants to celebrate Jesus' birthday. Schedule each request on the calendar and make it a family event. One child might want to bake a birthday cake for Jesus, another might want to act out the Christmas story with the whole family. A younger sibling's request may not be particularly exciting to an older sibling, and vice versa, so explain that being a family means honoring each other's wishes and celebrating together. Decide which church events your family will participate in during the season, but be careful not to let these activities overload your schedule. Finally, be sure to pray with your family to remain focused on the gift of God's Son.

Threatening Friends

Q. I am the mother of three daughters. My oldest is in fourth grade and has been struggling with a friend at school for a long time. They like each other, then hate each other. But recently their relationship has gotten out of hand. My daughter's friend physically hurt her, and the situation has escalated to where it's alleged that my daughter threatened to kill the girl. I have forbidden my daughter to communicate with her, but I am worried and confused.

A. It's imperative that you sit down with your daughter and discuss the seriousness of this situation. In the wake of kids killing kids, no threat can be taken lightly, even if you feel it was provoked or said out of frustration.

A fourth grade girl is almost biologically programmed for spats with friends. Girls at this age are trying to work out the rules of friendships?when to go along and when to resist; when to cooperate and when to be her own person. While arguing is normal, the intensity of these fights between your daughter and the other girl?not to mention the physical harm and the threats?is not. Though your daughter most likely would never follow through on such a threat, she needs to understand the consequences of these words in today's society. Even if your daughter didn't make this threat, it's clear that her relationship with the other girl is volatile. To help your daughter understand the ramifications of this troubling friendship, I recommend the following:

Ask open-ended questions.

Because your child is more likely to answer yes or no when asked a question, pose questions that will initiate a conversation and reveal whether her threat was real. Ask, "Why were you thinking about hurting her? How did you think you would hurt her?" If she insists she didn't make the threat, ask her about the physical violence that's already taken place. Ask, "What do you think about hurting someone?" It is critical to determine whether your daughter is likely to follow through on the alleged threat. If you feel her threat is legitimate, call a professional counselor at once.

Talk to her about threats.

Threatening language is very dangerous, inappropriate, and sometimes illegal. Many schools have adopted a Zero Tolerance rule, which they enforce by suspending and sometimes expelling students for making death threats?even threats made as a joke.

Teach alternatives.

Role-play the various scenarios your daughter experiences with this girl. Brainstorm together to find words or actions that can help her assert her need to be treated with respect and kindness. Tell her that walking away is okay, too.

Evaluate the friendship.

Talk about the pros and cons of the friendship. Remind her of her ability to form friendships and suggest she put energy into other friendships that make her feel good about herself. Take five minutes in quiet prayer together asking God for direction.

Call the other parent:

If this is the last resort, be at peace when you make the call. Anger and resentment will only fuel the fire. Be prepared with solutions for a positive resolution.

Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., is the mother of two and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy.

Send it to:"On the Family Front"Christian Parenting Today465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188fax: (630) 260-0114e-mail:

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