When I was growing up, my Christmases were chronically overbooked. Mom was a violin teacher, and since I played too, I got roped into every pageant, every church program mom could sign us up for. It paid some bills for our family, but it wasn’t exactly peace on earth, barreling through the snowy county to the next gig.
My wife has her own version of holiday spiraling-out-of-control. Early in December she starts buying gifts for our three kids, determined to hold the presents to a sane amount. Then about two weeks before the big day, she realizes the crucial gift ratios are off: one kid getting 3 presents, the other 5, the other 7. So more agonizing about how big the piles will look on Christmas morning, more spending.
When you make Christmas crazy, not only does it stress you, but it stresses your kids. When kids get stressed, they get sick. Then they come see us in the Emergency Department. For our sake, for your sake, and for your kids’, here’s some tips for keeping a lid on things.
First, kids don’t care about Christmas volume. Few children worry that their house is more decked out than the Griswold’s, or that their stack of presents exceeds the GDP of Botswana. Kids typically want only a few presents, but they care that they are the right ones! They know what they want, will let you know, and then you need to shop early, before things sell out. Now’s the time (as you’re reading this!) to get their Christmas lists and get the shopping done. Then later, if you need to even out the piles, you can get the “secondary” presents (clothes, socks,etc)
Also, more pageants, more shows, more activities won’t amp up your childrens’ Christmas spirit. Too much running around can exhaust them, make them grumpy, and make them prone to getting sick. Kids would rather spend time alone with their parents, than in crowds. Good family holiday activities are things like hikes, kayaking, playing games together, cooking together, watching movies at home. These are where kids’ favorite holiday memories are made, not at the Christmas Spectacular for $50 per ticket.
Here’s a not-so-heart-warming Christmas story. Last week we saw a baby with a month of coughing, occasional vomiting, but otherwise looked well. My colleague seeing the child decided to do a chest x-ray, given the long-standing cough, to be sure he wasn’t developing a pneumonia. While the x-ray showed no pneumonia, it did show the quarter lodged in baby’s esophagus!
Occasionally babies and toddlers will grab an object when no one’s looking. Since their mouths are their most sensitive parts, they’ll put new things in there to explore them. And occasionally swallow the object. Kids swallowing “foreign bodies,” as we call them, is especially a concern at Christmas. More toys strewn about, ornaments on trees, spare tree bulbs, are temptations toddlers can’t resist.
As we discussed above, keeping Christmas low-key and simple helps decrease holiday stress for you and your kids. It also decreases the amount of foreign bodies they can ingest. However, you will want to decorate some, so it’s a time to be extra vigilant. Small ornaments that baby can fit in his mouth should be high on the tree, out of reach. After decorating the tree, put all the boxes away and crawl around the area yourself, like a toddler, searching for anything she may be able to reach and eat.
Buy only age-appropriate toys. Toys will have an age category on the box, so you know if there’s lots of pieces that could be ingested. Keep the little ones away from the older one’s toys with small parts. Be especially careful to not leave out any magnets, button or disc batteries, or balloons- these can be deadly.
Finally, as always, it’s better to give than to receive. Studies have shown that people are happier the more they give, and not just presents. One really good giving idea this holiday is to donate blood. There’s always a shortage of blood in December, as people are so busy they feel they don’t have time to give. But we always need blood, for premature babies, for heart surgeries, for accident victims, and more. Making time to give blood will bring you a whole lot more holiday cheer than spending that time looking for parking at the mall.