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‘Tis the season of family holidays! With February hosting Family Day and March bringing the much-anticipated March Break, our favorite celebrity parents and parenting experts give families the inspiration they need to keep kids happy and healthy — and themselves sane.

We asked acclaimed parenting expert Alyson Schafer, often seen as a featured expert on programs such as The Marilyn Denis Show, Your Morning, Breakfast Television, and The Morning Show, to share a few of her best tips to make the most out of your family time, whether on holiday or spending time at home.

1. Include Kids in the Planning

When children are involved in the planning they feel empowered. They can voice their opinions and make suggestions. When the family plans together, everyone becomes a stakeholder in the event and you are more likely to win a children’s co-operation when the holiday begins. Don’t underestimate how much your kids can participate. I have seen a 12-year-old boy research and book travel for a family holiday to Italy! What a great way to combine computer time with research and fact finding.

2. It Doesn’t Have to be Exotic or Lavish

Think back to your childhood memories. Is it really Disneyland you remember? Or was it how your dad carried you on his shoulder, so you could see over the crowd? While you may have fond memories of a trip or outing, usually what stays with us is memories of the interactions between people. I have great memories of a holiday where we all got the flu! Everyone was taking care of everyone, and it felt special.

If you are opting for a stay-cation, you can still create those lasting family memories by how you relate to one another and spend time with each other.

3. Be Fully Present

I can’t stress this point enough. Part of why families are feeling more disconnected is because we have technology fighting for our attention and it often wins. If this truly is a vacation, put down the phone and give your full attention to the people around you. We may be tempted to snap pictures to share on social media, but with phone in hand, you are also more likely to check your emails, start thinking about work, or replying to other people’s posts. Next thing you know, you have had your nose in your phone for five minutes instead of being present with those around you in real life

4. Play Together

We are quickly losing the art of play, which has vital importance to the development of children and is essential in strengthening the bonds in the family. Before this year’s family holidays write a list of games you already like to play, and then research some oldie but goodies that you can try for the first time this holiday together. Even better, ask your children to make up their own new game and teach you their rules. That’s wonderfully empowering and creative!

5. Explore Your Own Town

Funny how we travel to new places to explore and often overlook what is available in our very own town. During the holidays, many cities host family events that are fun and affordable, such as historic sites, galleries, museums, culture centers, and neighborhoods.

6. Share a Book

We all know reading is important! While you may already read to your kids as part of their bedtime routine, holidays allow us to choose bigger books with longer story lines and really dig in to them as a family. Look for recommendations on websites like Goodreads.

7. Schedule Downtime

If you don’t want to return from your holiday exhausted, be sure to set the expectation that parents need downtime too. Explain that you are not always available to entertain or play with your kids, and that you will be taking your own “quiet time” each day. Children are more likely to allow this if you establish this expectation and set clear timelines.

To ease the transition, help children get settled themselves with what they are going to do during your “quiet time” first. “Okay, you have your Lego, juice, and crackers – do you need anything else from me? I am starting my quiet time and setting a timer for 30 minutes.”

8. Remember What is Important

I took my nieces to the Ontario Science Centre, and I was so excited to show them the exhibits, but it quickly became clear that they were more interested in riding the escalator. It could have turned into a battle, but I reminded myself that the exhibits were my agenda, not theirs. What really mattered that day was having a good time together.

Once I shifted my attitude and remembered my priorities, I let it go and enjoyed the time with them. Sometimes the power of expectation can really ruin a good time. Stay in the moment, and accept the reality of how the moment is unfolding.

9. Kids Who Feel Good, Do Good

Even though it is holiday time, kids still behave better when they stick fairly closely to their routine times for meals and sleep, so plan accordingly.

Older kids can be more flexible, but if you are making plans with little kids in tow, be sure to schedule your most taxing outings in the morning when they are fresh and rested. Carry along snacks and don’t mess too much with their regular nap and sleep schedule if you want them to be on their best behavior.

10. Correcting Behaviour

Children get excited and exuberant on holidays. They are in new situations and they don’t always know the rules or expectations for behavior. You will have to correct their behavior occasionally, but when you do so, be as inconspicuous as possible.

No one likes to be corrected, so the less fanfare the better. Crouch down and talk to them privately where no one else can hear. Be calm and brief. If you haven’t trained your child to sit at the table at home, it’s unlikely they will miraculously sit at the table at the restaurant at the all-inclusive hotel because you really want them to. Just manage the situation as best you can, and make a note you need to work on this when you get home, so the next holiday is better!

While I do not recommend bribery as a discipline tool, if it will get a screaming child to be quiet on an airplane, I say go for it!  Sometimes the needs of the situation dictate that we have do things in a different way. Keep your sanity, save the moment, and know you have a long road of parenting ahead of you when you can be more skillful in your approach. #nojudgement!

Follow some of our celebrity parents on Instagram — Jessica Mulroney, Jessi Cruickshank, Sangita Patel, Tracy Moore, and David Rocco — to see more adventures in parenting!

Alyson is the resident parenting expert on The Marilyn Denis Show and CTV News channel, as well as the host of six seasons of The Parenting Show. She is also the bestselling author of three parenting books: Breaking the Good Mom Myth; Honey, I Wrecked The Kids; and her latest, Ain’t Misbehavin’. Alyson is also the mom to two young adult daughters, currently studying social sciences at university — just like their mom!

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