It's that time of year again. Families are caught up in that funnel cloud known as "the holidays." The mere thought of all that planning, cooking and cleaning for holiday parties; buying and wrapping gifts; writing out holiday cards; decorating the house; attending children's holiday concerts and visiting relatives can exhaust parents and take the fun out of the season.
Many of us might not consider recruiting our kids to help minimize the stress of the season. With all the supervision children need, wouldn't it just make things more stressful? But giving children the right, age-appropriate jobs can help reduce your stress while also instilling in them the holiday values and traditions you cherish. Kids love the holidays and they have a natural "helping" instinct. They want to be involved.
Try some of these tasks to keep them happily engaged, relieve the burden of your "to-do" list, and foster family togetherness. Most of these tasks can be handled by children in elementary school and up. Younger kids can help too, but will need more supervision:
>The Holiday Cards - Children old enough to have legible handwriting and adequate spelling skills can address greeting cards, while preschoolers can put the stamp in the right spot. Make a family activity out of it: Sit around the kitchen table together while you write, and the kids address and stamp. Serve a plate of holiday cookies and some hot chocolate to keep things festive.
The Holiday Party - If you're inviting families with children to your house, involve your kids in tidying up and preparing an area for the youngest guests. They can set out toys and kid-friendly snacks. If you're hosting an adults-only party, consider having older elementary-school-age kids greet guests at the door and take their coats, or walk around with plates of hors d'oeuvres. Tweens and teens might enjoy preparing party platters, such as crackers and cheese, shrimp cocktail, etc. Once the party is in full swing, make sure there's a place where the kids can go while you enjoy your guests. Rent a DVD they've been wanting to see, cook up some popcorn and dispatch them to a room where they'll be safe and entertained, and where you can check on them periodically.
The Holiday Table - Teaching children how to properly set a table and then letting them do it while you attend to something else will save you time and give them valuable etiquette experience. Be clear about the number of place settings and the tablecloth, plates, glasses and silverware that you want - and general tips on proper table-setting. Then let them do it all for you. When you return to see the finished table, be sure to praise your children's work. Correct any misplaced silverware and the like, but make a point of keeping the tablecloth or centerpiece they chose. Remember, too, that during the holiday meal, children can and should help bring serving plates to the table and clear dishes when the meal is done.
The Holiday Décor - Swallow your Martha Stewart pride and let your children help decorate. Designate the least fragile items for your kids to place about the house. Tell them which rooms you'd like to see decorations in. Suggest display areas for your Santa figurines or menorah collection. For the Christmas tree, designate boxes of ornaments for each child, based on height and age. Save the most fragile ornaments and the tree lights for yourself. During Hanukkah, designate days for each child to help light the menorah (or the kinara at Kwanzaa).
The Holiday Baking - There are plenty of kid-friendly holiday cookie recipes. If you're decorating, make it simple, with less "mess potential." Topping sugar cookies with squeezable frosting can become a sticky, time-consuming project that kids have a tendency to overdo. Gingerbread men are a better option. Set up a decorating area in your kitchen, and give kids specific instructions: Use a dot of frosting as glue to secure raisin buttons and cinnamon candy eyes.
Helping Those in Need - Sit down with your children and talk about the charities you'd like to support this holiday season. Involve them in choosing one that you can all participate in as a family: creating gift baskets for homeless shelters, food baskets for elderly shut-ins, or even working at a soup kitchen together if your kids are old enough. Set aside time to do the charitable work and to deliver your donations together.
Now, take another look at your holiday "to-do" list and figure out how your kids can help with other projects, such as wrapping gifts for neighbors or teachers. Remember, you're getting some much-needed help while teaching your children valuable life skills.
Deirdre Wilson is a senior editor for United Parenting Publications.
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