Parents

Will your kids be naughty or nice? Tips for better behavior during the holidays

The Elf on the Shelf has done his duty to safeguard your kids' behavior, and there's no more "Santa is watching!" By Christmas afternoon, the kids are sugared up, revved up and running out of manners fast.

So how can you make sure that you don't spend the next year hearing from your relatives about your kids' poor behavior? A little prep, a little flexibility and a few rules will go a long way. Check out this guide and pick up a few strategies to feel great about your parenting during this crazy season!

Hosting

The skills of hosting will serve our kids their whole lives. If you have the (mis?)fortune of hosting a big holiday meal or party, use that as a chance to teach your kids how to wow guests while making your life a little easier. Four gestures make anyone feel welcome, and kids and teens can handle them all.

  • Greet guests at the door. Put down the device, get up and go say “Hi” as they walk in.
  • Take their coats. Relieve your guest of packages and outerwear so they can get comfortable.
  • Offer food and drink. 'Tis the season, after all, and nothing makes someone feel more welcome.
  • Show them around a little. The restroom, the toys, the main gathering of people. Even if this is someone who's frequently in your home, a phrase like, "There are appetizers in the kitchen," will give your guests direction.
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Getting together with friends and family for the holidays can be stressful for kids as well as adults, but there are valuable lessons to be learned.

Guesting

Even if our kids don't always love the family gatherings we drag them to, they do often love being a guest at their friends' homes. So use your holiday visiting to reinforce the good guest manners you hope they have wherever they go. Remind them: If you see them having great manners at Aunt Susie's house, you'll be more likely to let them accept an invitation to a friend's house.

  • Ask. Hungry? Ask politely. See a cool toy or want to watch their screen? Ask if it's OK. Need the bathroom? Ask which one to use.
  • Knock. On any closed door, and don't go in until you get permission.
  • Help. Take an empty serving dish to the kitchen, grab a full bag of garbage and put it in the trash can outside, wash a dish. It won't kill you and it will impress the heck out of all the adults.

Gift receiving

The point here is to remember the point. Gifts are an expression of warmth. Getting them should add to the warmth, not freeze over the room. Receiving gifts gracefully, even — maybe especially — horrible gifts, is an important skill to master. So remind your kids that "Thank you" is always the right answer and can be a complete sentence!

  • "Thank you for the gift!" Sometimes simple is best.
  • "Thank you for thinking of me!" If your child really can't think of anything they like about the gift, then teach them to look past what they're holding and consider the reason it's offered. The more gracious they are in the moment, the more you'll be willing to help them figure out which store might have sold the awful thing in the first place for a return.
  • "Thank you for being a part of my life." Best of all is to take the gift out of the equation entirely and show some gratitude for the gift-giver.

Adult interaction

For some kids, talking to adults is the most painful part of gatherings. They dislike answering the same stilted questions dozens of times, or get in trouble for finding their screens more fascinating than the company.

The truth is that when we were their age, we also would have brought all of our friends along in our pockets if we could have! So have compassion for how boring, uncomfortable and annoying this may be, but still tell them about the good behavior you expect.

  • When you first see an adult, stand up and look in their eyes. Whether you're meeting someone new or saying hello to an adult who's known you since you were born, these two simple steps will make that person feel respected.
  • Put down the device. Put the phone in your pocket, pause the game, put the tablet face down for the duration of the conversation.
  • Answer and ask. Answer questions in full sentences. Ask a question yourself. This is a great way to talk about something besides what grade you're in and if you like school.

Disciplining

Correcting our children's behavior in front of other people is awkward. It's potentially embarrassing for our kids, us and the people watching. It's also almost inevitable. Kids will do things that we don't like, or get into an argument with someone else. We need to communicate with our children and be able to hear their side of the story. To make this as smooth as possible, try two strategies ahead of time and one more in the moment.

  1. Choose a signal. Ask your child to pick a sign you can give with your hand to silently let him know you want him to improve his behavior.
  2. Offer a carrot. Decide with your kids on a fun activity to do later that night or the next day, if they can keep their behavior good or great.
  3. Get some privacy. When you do have to talk to your offspring about something that is not going right, try to eliminate the audience. Go into another room together or whisper quietly in a corner. You can even text with a tween or teen in the same room. No one will think anything of it!

Getting together with friends and family for the holidays can be stressful for kids as well as adults, but there are valuable lessons to be learned. Consult this guide to see which tips work best for which ages.

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Dr. Deborah Gilboa, also known as Dr. G, is a parenting expert and the author of "Get the Behavior You Want, Without Being the Parent You Hate!"

This article was originally published on Dec. 21, 2015 on TODAY.com.

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