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I've been thinking about the holidays. For me, personally, I'm done with my holidays. I don't have Christmas - I have Hanukkah, and we always celebrate when my children and grandchildren are here for Thanksgiving, so I have the gift-giving and the more stressful aspects of celebrating behind me. Now is the time that I sit back and watch everybody around me going crazy.

There's a lot to do this month. Believe me, I understand. But I have three words of advice, words that you've probably heard a lot if you have a little girl - Let it go.

What I see are people completely overwhelmed because they're trying to do too much. They're trying to get to every holiday-themed event and every opportunity to have their picture with Santa. How many Santas does your child have to sit with?

Here's a suggestion for keeping the chaos at bay during the holidays: Do things because you want to do them, not because you're trying to be the best parent in the world. Whether it's making your house look perfect, endlessly shopping or going to every holiday activity in the Tri-State, you have to choose which are most important to you, and let some things go. You cannot possibly do everything. People need to give themselves the right to say, "It's enough. We're doing the things that we can do, and I'm not expected nor should I try to do everything."

People are losing the best part of the holiday because they try to squeeze in too much. Don't make yourself crazy or your kids crazy. We're wondering why our kids are grumpy and cranky. It's because we've worn them out. They need some relaxing downtime. Sometimes they just want to hang out in their pajamas. We all need break time. Hang out at home. Make popcorn, get a pizza and watch some of your favorite Christmas movies.

If your children are old enough, maybe have a family meeting to talk about which activities seem the most fun, and then don't stress about missing the rest. Let it go.

It's the same way with Christmas gifts. I don't know how other people do it, as far as deciding how much money to spend. It should be like any other item in your budget: This is how much we have to spend for Christmas, and this is how many people we have to buy for, and then we're done. If someone wants one more thing, the answer is no.

Even though I don't celebrate Christmas, I understand wanting to have a nice holiday for your family. But giving them way more than you can afford is not the answer to that, because when January and February come along, you're in trouble. Meanwhile, the kids might have moved on. They got their gift, and they might love it, or it might be one of 20 other things that they got. Their interests change, and things change, and trying to put too much money and time into one thing is not a good way to go about things.

As far as what types of gifts to buy, every child is different, but my daughter read something that offered good advice. The simpler and more passive the toy you're getting, the more active your child is going to be. Automated toys don't bring out children's creativity. A plain doll or animal will encourage a child to use his or her imagination. Those basics - blocks, balls, crayons, paper - kids still love those things because they can do whatever they want with them. I'm not thrilled with those LEGOs that only make one specific thing. Give me a big tub of LEGOs and let me make whatever I want.

If you're going to spend the money, spend it on something that is going to hold their attention and let them explore and be creative. Give a box of 64 crayons or some markers. Last year, my 5-year-old granddaughter asked for white paper. My husband bought her a package of 500 sheets. She was so excited because she had her own stash. It was one of her favorite things that she got.

We want to give children things and make it special, but think about what you're purchasing and don't just get the latest fad. Get open-ended toys - blocks, art materials, Lincoln Logs, musical instruments or puppets.

When it comes to decorating or making things for the holidays, don't overdo it unless it's something you love. If it is something you love, then maybe leave out some other things on your schedule so you don't wear yourself out.

Also, let your kids help. It's time for family. That time together is more important than perfection, any day of the year.

Suzi Brodof is executive director of River Valley Child Development Services in Huntington. It offers child care at Enterprise Child Development Center, after-school programs at Meadows Elementary and the Explorer Academy, and other services for children as young as infants up through elementary school.


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