Q: This is supposed to be the "feel good" season of the year. But to me it's always just extra stressful for the whole family. How can we change that pattern?
Jim: For most people, the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are some of the busiest of the year. That's when the house gets decorated, the Christmas tree goes up, the shopping has to be done and (at least in "normal" years) there can be all manner of social obligations.
If we're not careful, the Christmas season can race by in a blur. And when it's all said and done, we'll have nothing to show for it. No joy. No special memories. Just stress and credit card bills. So here are a few ideas to put the Christmas spirit back into the season.
First, go slower. I admit, this isn't an easy one. But try to live in the moment. Stop what you're doing every so often and take in the decorations and Christmas music. Let the season — and the reason for it — get hold of you.
Second, do less. This one is also a challenge. There's a lot to be done this time of year. But maybe some of it isn't necessary. Cut back where you can.
Finally, create more memories. Let's face it, you probably won't remember a single present you'll get this year. What you WILL remember are the special times you spent with your spouse, your children and extended family. Make the most of those times.
Christmas is all in the heart. The decorations are great, and the gifts are fun, but they're not what make Christmas special. The memories we create are what will last.
Q: We're conflicted about Christmas presents this year. After everything that we've been through as a nation and a family, we feel like we should be extra generous to our kids. But we also can't afford to go overboard. What are your thoughts?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting & Youth: Kids around the world love to receive gifts. But you don't have to feel the need to buy things in order to make your children feel happy. Help them experience the gift and joy of healthy limits, contentment and gratitude this year.
According to a study by the University of Toledo, less is more. Too many toys can shorten a child's attention span and stifle their imagination. Kids who were given fewer toys to play with were more creative, more focused and played with each toy longer. Children who were given a lot of toys were more easily distracted. They played with each toy only for a short time, then tossed it aside for another one.
Research is backing up what parents have known for generations: Too much of anything is bad for kids. Playtime is no exception. It's just one important ingredient in developing a child's imagination and coordination.
If you've got toddlers and a playroom filled with toys, keep some in a storage bin. Allow them to play with fewer toys at a time. And rotate in new toys once in a while.
If your children are old enough for technology, you face the same issue: Too much is never good. Monitor their screen time and set reasonable limits. (Check out the "Technology Management" section at FocusOnTheFamily.com/parenting).
Those are good ideas any time of year, but your child gets an additional benefit at Christmastime. It gives them an opportunity to experience the true meaning of Christmas. The joy in the reason for the season isn't something you find under a mountain of toys. As Jim said in his answer above, it's found in our hearts through faith, love and family.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.