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Marilyn Heins: Combat holiday stress

Marilyn Heins: Combat holiday stress

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Have you noticed the Christmas catalogs stuffing your mailbox? Have you noticed newspaper ads for turkeys? The holiday season fast approaches. As regularly as the winter solstice appears, so does holiday stress!

The holidays bring an additional workload to a family, especially mothers and grandmothers. Women are the traditional preparers of holiday meals, bakers of cookies, wrappers of presents, and passers-on of traditions and values. But in today’s world many women are in the workforce full time and many men are willing helpers and preparers. Consumerism seems to escalate each year, as does the pace of family life. And many of us overdo it by eating or drinking too much or spending too much money.

Here is Dr. Heins’ coined word to combat holiday stress: CHEERS!

C stands for connections. That’s what the holidays are all about and connecting with family and loved ones is what really matters. The contact we make with friends and relatives — the hugs and the smiles — is much more important than the gift or the menu.

H stands for help. Busy mothers and fathers, don’t even try to do it all! Make a list of holiday chores. Involve the children in the home holiday tasks. Pay or or barter with someone to help you with these tasks.

E stands for eliminate. Look at that list of tasks very piercingly! Do you really have to bake holiday pies and cookies or can you buy them? Think about how you can eliminate the work of gifts. How about a donation to the Community Food Bank in the name of the friends or holiday hosts you would have otherwise purchased a gift for. No shopping! No wrapping! Just a pretty card telling the people you made a donation in their honor. Both the donor and the donee get to share in the warm feeling that derives from helping others.

The second E stands for the environment. Update your holiday lifestyle. Think about planet Earth. Downsize your shopping list.

R stands for reach out. Parents have a wonderful opportunity at this time of year to help their children realize that they are part of a wider community. Invite lonely people to share your holiday. Get the children involved in bringing toys or food to the needy.

S stands for slow down — my most important bit of advice. We often set an unmerciful pace for ourselves. Model a slower, more relaxed holiday pace for your children. Find new traditions for your family that emphasize connections and minimize rushing around.

And slow down the pace of gift-buying for the children. Regular readers know how much I oppose toy overload — a common problem of many children today. This year make every effort to minimize toy shopping as less is more.


Call me old fashioned, but I think manners are important every day and especially important in the holiday season. There are three special manners for the holidays: Act nicely, dress appropriately, and say thank you for all gifts.

Acting nice includes cordial greetings, minimal squirming when great-aunt Helen hugs you, listening respectfully when older folks are talking, keeping the level of kid noise down, and remembering to use those kind six letter words: “please” and “thanks.”

When grandparents or others from afar send gifts for the holidays, old-fashioned Dr. Heins still believes in a mandatory thank-you note. Even toddlers can “sign” a note written by their parents if given a fat crayon and some encouragement. Preschoolers can print their name at the bottom of such a note and by fourth grade every child should be able to print or write a note for every gift. And promptly. Grandma and Grandpa should not have to wait until spring vacation to get their note. They didn’t wait until Easter to give their grandkid a Christmas present did they?

Yes this sounds strict. But to me manners mean caring and caring means manners. Can you think of a better time than the holidays to express how much we care for one another?


Parents and grandparents have to be especially safety-conscious at holidays. Our homes have potentially dangerous, not-usually-present, objects like Christmas trees and Hanukkah candles. Also we are busy preparing for the holidays so our usual vigilance can be affected by fatigue or by thinking about other things.

Parents (and grandparents or others expecting holiday visits from little ones) should look at their holiday-season house from a safety point of view. Keep crawling babies away from danger. No grabbing tree decorations. Guard against burns and fire. Be especially careful about lighted candles, which are a great attraction to the young.

The rate of accidental ingestions increase during the holidays. Both holly and mistletoe are poisonous, as is alcohol in glasses on coffee tables. Grandma’s purse often serves as a portable medicine cabinet containing prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicines which can be lethal to a baby. Christmas tree ornaments are not digestible, button batteries can do great harm to babies if swallowed, as can Christmas bow pins which the baby can inhale. Be careful about the small parts of toys or other products. Even if you avoid buying the baby toys with small parts, baby can get into an older sibling’s presents.

Crawlers must be kept kept away from toothpicks, often used in holiday food or decorations. Look around at the area where you are wrapping presents or doing crafts to be sure all sharp knives or razors are out of reach.

A driveway full of cars is a hazard to small children; be sure all of the little ones are safely out of the way before Uncle Bob starts to back out. Supervise children with new equipment like bikes and chemistry sets.

Keep the grown-ups and old folks safe, too. You do not want grandma to trip over presents and fall. Teach your children to be sensitive to a frail elderly person and not roughhouse nearby. Also give up their seat if grandpa looks tired.

Happy holidays! Have a safe and sane holiday season.

Dr. Heins welcomes your questions. Contact her at

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