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Happy holidays? These tips can help make it so

Happy holidays?

Unfortunately, more and more families see the holiday season as a time for stress rather than the most wonderful time of the year.

Many adults and children build huge expectations around Christmas — that the day will be full of perfect joy, that the tree will be surrounded by toys, and everybody in the family will somehow find a way to get along with one another.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. One of the things I quickly learned when I was a new teacher was that for some of my students the holidays might be a vacation from school, but not from family problems.

Economic hardships, the reality of broken families, a family member’s bouts of drug or alcohol abuse, or the pain of an abusive home can’t be escaped by going to class.

Even under the best of circumstances money can be a source of stress. Everybody wants the latest toy or gift, but fulfilling those wishes can cost a bundle.

There are some things families can do to handle the stress, according to the American Psychological Association. They offer some good tips that might be the best gift parents can receive this holiday season:

• Set expectations: Talk to your children about expectations for gifts and holiday activities. Be open and honest with them if money is an issue. Depending on your child’s age, parents can use tough times as an excellent opportunity to teach kids about the value of money, financial priorities and responsible spending. Do teach your kids how to handle Christmas gift-giving, including what type and the number of gifts they receive.

• Be realistic: Take small concrete steps to deal with holiday tasks instead of overwhelming yourself with goals that are too far reaching for a busy time. Stress is “contagious” – your children will benefit if you keep things in perspective.

• By the way, keep things in perspective: Don’t blow events out of proportion — and maybe it’s a good time of the year not to talk about politics at the dinner table if family is visiting together for the first time in a long time.

• Make connections: Positive relationships with family and friends are important. Regard the holidays as a time to reconnect with the people in your life that matter, even if they are at a distance. Consider volunteering at a local charity with your kids — it is a good way to connect with others, assist someone in need and teach your children about the value of helping others.

• Take care of yourself: Your needs and feelings matter, too. Taking care of you helps keep your mind and body healthy enough to deal with stressful situations. Walk. Bike. Get out the sled or the skis. Physical activity often improves mental health.

• Consider cutting back television viewing for kids and instead, get the family together for a winter walk. It promotes activity — and removes children from the possible influence of television advertisements!

May your holidays be a time when you and your children can experience love, peace, joy, and a well-deserved break from school work. Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

A former reporter who covered politics and government for newspapers in California and Oregon, Paul R. Huard teaches social studies and English courses at Ashland High School. The opinions he expresses are his own.