how to keep your kids from driving you nuts before the holidays

So I thought about calling this “how to enjoy the holiday season with your kids,” but I have two kids so I KNOW how much fun you’re having this time of year. But I also know how kids get wound up, overtired, and impatient for the big day…while you’re still running around trying to prepare. It’s a recipe for nuttiness. Here are a few things that save my sanity every December, a few ways to keep your kids from driving you nuts before Christmas.

1. Get (or make) an Advent calendar

In Western Christian churches, Advent is the season before Christmas during which we think about not only the birth of Christ—his First Coming—but also prepare for the Second Coming. This season includes many traditions observed slightly differently between denominations, but if you are not a churchgoer, you can still count down the days of Advent with candles or a calendar. The simplest of calendars feature little doors or windows that a child can open every day, revealing a picture or message. More elaborate calendars include candies or toys behind the doors. You can even make your own calendar (see the craft links below for some ideas).

Having a little surprise to look forward to every day makes the waiting more bearable for some kids. Bonus: you won’t have to tell them every day how many days are left until Christmas! (read: keep your kids from driving you nuts.)

2. Put them to work

Some of the things you’re doing to prepare for the holidays have to be a secret. (Shh!) But many of the other tasks are not only faster but also more enjoyable with help. Are you sending Christmas or New Year cards? Have your kids apply the address labels or stamps. Why not let them “sign” some of them, too? (Can you imagine how delighted the grandparents will be when they receive that darling signature?) Baking holiday cookies is a whole lot messier with mini assistants, but you’ll make memories with them that will last forever. They’ll feel pretty happy when they help deliver those cookies to the neighbors and can tell them, “I helped!”

Older kids can decorate the tree with handmade ornaments; create hand crafted gifts AND the wrapping paper; and make easy snacks to share with their classes and friends. There are many sites that provide Christmas craft ideas, including Martha Stewart, Instructables, and Parents. Check out this Pinterest board for more Christmas crafts for kids.

3. End each day with play

Play dough, that is. When my kids were little, I made this dough all the time. I found it particularly helpful when I needed kids to unwind at the end of long days. The recipe is from Vicki Lansky’s Feed Me I’m Yours, and can be made easily from ingredients in your cupboard. Store in an airtight container and pull it out whenever you need a break and kids need a quiet distraction. Here’s the recipe:

Play Dough

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 Tbsp. cream of tartar
1 cup water
food coloring (optional)

Cook over medium heat, stirring for about 4-5 minutes. This is how it will look at the start:

It will start to clump as it heats, and you’ll think, “Oh, no, it’s ruined!” Keep stirring. This is how it will look when it’s done:

When it forms a ball in the pan, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead it. You can knead in some glitter (it’s the holidays! Be festive!). Sometimes I knead in a few drops of lavender essential oil because my kids love the scent, and I find it soothing. Wait, did I just admit that I play with play dough? Guilty.

Roll out the dough and use cookie cutters to cut into holiday shapes, then seal in baggies to share with your kids’ friends. Because everyone could use a few minutes of calm at the end of the day…especially right before Christmas.

What do you do to keep this season fun and cut back on the nuttiness? I’d love to know your secrets to keep your kids from driving you nuts!