Spending Holidays with Young Children: Keeping It Simple


Preserving the meaning of the holidays is tricky with so much pressure -- pressure to BUY, pressure to TRAVEL, and pressure to JUGGLE HOLIDAY EVENTS. The obligations start to pile up, and pretty soon we can't wait until it's all over.

Here in Hawaii, we've learned something about simplicity: Simple is better. Not always easier -- but better. As we're being bombarded with impossible holiday expectations, keep this in mind -- babies and young children don't have ANY expectations for the holidays. Everything is new to them -- even more reason to keep it simple. They can only absorb so much before they go into overload and meltdown. Admiring decorations, singing songs, and extra time with family are all it takes to make a great holiday for a young child -- and make it easier on us, too. Because kids -- especially young kids -- take their cues directly from us. So a successful holiday is mainly about OUR mood, and how it affects our kids. If we're stressed about travel schedules, dreading family reunions, and scrambling to get "the best" presents, our kids will absorb THOSE feelings about the holidays. On the other hand, if we can relax and enjoy the time off -- cooking, playing, and having fun with holiday rituals -- our kids will absorb THOSE feelings. Which sounds better?

Consider These Simpler Holiday Options:

* Fewer presents -- more thoughtfully written (and decorated) cards * Fewer "junk" holiday treats -- more time cooking real meals together * Less money spent on toys -- more time volunteering for those in need * Fewer holiday parties -- more family "cocooning" time

Aloha and Happy Holidays,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Television & Technology: Pros and Cons of High Tech Toys for Young Children

Are high-tech toys good -- or bad -- for young children? Helpful toy -- or demon gadget?

I was recently contacted by Aaron Crowe, who's doing a story for the AOL personal finance site WalletPop on the use of high-tech toys with young children. He had some interesting questions about the pros and cons of these ubiquitous gadgets. He specifically asked about these new-fangled iPhone apps that are designed to entertain the little ones. With spring break upon us, lots of us are traveling with young kids and want whatever help we can get to make it through those TSA lines at the airport and to our destination with our sanity generally intact. So, are these apps super-cool parent-helpers, or brain-damaging demon gadgets?

There hasn't been conclusive research on this subject yet. Some of you have seen my articles on TV-watching and young kids. There are some conflicting research studies on the impact of TV, but no "smoking gun" as to clear-cut negative effects -- that is, if you are careful as to WHAT is watched, and for HOW LONG. I think we can reasonably assume that the use of high-tech gadgetry has a similar impact on kids as to that of TV.

Another Balancing Act for the Good-Enough Parent A Good-Enough Parent is one who balances the child's needs within the scope of the needs of the whole family. A Good-Enough Parent doesn't worry that playing with a high-tech toy during a long wait at an airport will do damage to their child, but rather is grateful for the help of technology and takes the opportunity to grab a coffee and have a few minutes of peace, while their child is "app-happy". After that brief interlude to get re-charged for the trip, a Good Enough Parent focuses back on the child and looks for ways to make the trip fun -- or at least tolerable -- without the gadget. But guess what? If you're traveling under serious degrees of difficulty -- as in, multiple young children, lots of delays, transfers, or red-eye flights, that high-tech gadget might come in really handy. And if your toddler or preschooler ends up using it the whole darn trip, IT'S OK WITH ME. The only danger is in getting used to relying on the high-tech toys after the trip, and forgetting that, deep down, what kids really want is to play with their parents. Simple family-oriented time together is what young children need most.

Because to me, the main issue is BALANCE and MODERATION. Use of your cell-phone apps for toddlers on a daily basis? (Insert loud buzzing sound here.) Use of said apps to get through an otherwise painful trip? Ding ding ding! Go for it! Because you know how technology works -- kids go through a phase where they really get into a new gizmo, and then after awhile, lose their enthusiasm. It's up to us as parents to create an environment where kids (and we grown-ups!) can enjoy conversations, simple games, and creative toys to balance out the high tech stimulation we all get on a daily basis.

Thanks, Aaron, for the opportunity to be used as an "expert" for your feature.

If you're interested, check out his story here.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Parenting Tips: Advice for Traveling with Young Children

Whew! We've made it back from our trip to California. Even though we're still unpacking, I'm thrilled that the trip was so fantastic -- our best yet. I've been thinking about what made it such a success, and here are some of the tidbits I thought I'd share: EXPECTATIONS. Have very few. The greater your expectations, when traveling with young kids, the greater your disappointment. Case in point: On one of our Disneyland days, I literally went on NOT ONE SINGLE RIDE, and I'm a huge Disney fan. My goals for the day were far more basic: Make sure the snack situation was in order for hungry-at-any-moment kids. Scope out an air-conditioned store in advance to hang out with a napping 2-year-old in a stroller. Strategize with Hubby so as to avoid the parade crowds, and get the kids on the rides they most wanted to do. My reward: Everyone had a great day, despite the huge crowds.

PLAN FOR ADULT FUN. We worked very hard to juggle the schedules of family and friends in order to arrange a Vegas trip -- without the kids. I don't even gamble; I didn't play ONE SINGLE GAME. (I'm starting to sound a bit boring, aren't I?) But we got to have lovely sit-down meals with the best of friends, enjoy an amazing show, and sleep in two days in a row. All of this made the other struggles of the trip easy to manage, because I knew we had a fun reward coming up. (Here's a photo for you DGM fans.)Good Friends in Vegas

MAKE TIME FOR THE IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE. We have close friends and lots of family in Cali. Simply arranging days to let the cousins and kid friends play together was one of the most rewarding aspects of the trip. Nothing fancy, just hanging out. Playing at the park, or in Grandma and Grandpa's backyard. The time together is already building a foundation of closeness among the kids that's priceless.

DON'T FREAK OUT ABOUT TRAVEL DAYS. Yes, traveling with kids is challenging. Yes, getting to the airport, dealing with TSA, snotty airline employees (and child-free passengers), delays, car seats and rental cars all add up be quite ridiculously impossible, at times. I know of which I speak: Last year, we were trapped in an airport for 11 (yes, eleven) hours with our kids, then ages 6, 4 and 1. The delay meant that we would have to do an unanticipated red-eye flight to the mainland; 5 1/2 hours, and we would arrive at our destination at 5am. And by then I was out of diapers, had one old bottle left, and no food. How did we handle it? I have no idea. I've blocked it, like any other traumatic experience!

Seriously, it's a day (or two) of hell, and you just get through it. If you need help, start asking airport or airline employees. Many of them will play dumb, but others will be able to help; last year we had to ask 4 or 5 different workers for someone to help us get from one terminal to the other with 2 sleeping kids and 12 bags. Eventually, a guy came with one of those cool electric carts to whisk us to our gate. We've had all sorts of problems with airplane seating; being assigned a "1-4" configuration with 3 little kids, and other inanities; we just start asking workers (and even other passengers) for advice and help, and eventually, things are usually worked out. DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP. BE NICE AND APOLOGETIC TO FELLOW TRAVELERS, who often take pity and can make things easier. Look for little, unexpected moments of relief: the computer terminals now available in many airports offer endless interest to toddlers, even if they never get to navigate off the "pay now" page. Get some ice, a couple of cups, and let the little ones at it; I have no idea why, but they seem to LOVE ice in paper cups. Find an uncrowded area away from the action, and let the kids go crazy. Run races, play tag, change stinky diapers...make yourself at home. And when you finally get to your destination, it's a day of recovery, and then you're off and enjoying your vacation!

Lots of you ask whether it's worth the hassle to travel with young kids. I say GO FOR IT, as long as you manage your expectations, plan for some adult fun, pace yourself on travel days, and stay light on your feet in response to the kids' needs. And don't forget to take lots of photos and videos; in addition to being awesome reminders of these precious days with the little ones, you can keep the kids entertained all the way back home by reviewing them (over, and over, and over....)

Do you have other tips for making traveling with little kids more manageable? Do tell!