Merry Christmas! by William Summey

The Christmas season is upon us with all that entails: decorating, exams, church programs, holiday parties, shopping, family time, travel, delicious meals, and most importantly celebrating the birth of Jesus. I always lament how quickly the holidays pass each year because of how busy we are.

Join me in being intentional this year. Don’t be afraid to prioritize, cut back, say no, and plan wisely so that you can do the most important things as a family and not just those things that seem urgent at the moment. The time with our children truly flies by.

We hope you enjoy the December issue of ParentLife and all the content we’re able to share here on the blog. Above all, the team at ParentLife wants to wish you and your family a merry Christmas!

Christmas Break Training 101: Making Yours a Success by Erin MacPherson

sequoia and rachel, sittin' by the tree... - _MG_6719
source: seandereilinger

We love the idea of using Christmas break as a time to “train” your kids. I wrote about sleep training my daughter during Christmas break in December‘s article “Sleep Tight.” Whether you’re sleep training, potty training, moving your kid to a big-boy bed, or training your kids to eat something other than chicken nuggets, setting aside a dedicated time to do it is a great way to make sure you end up with a fully-trained (or at least mostly trained) kid.

Here are six tips to make sure your Christmas break training is a success.

  • Read up on the strategies. Before you even think about training your kid to do anything, check out a couple books from the library or ask good ole’ Mr. Google what other parents have done right … and wrong.
  • Know your kid. You know what makes your kid tick, and you know how he is going to respond to the training, so trust your instincts and come up with a plan that works for you and your family.
  • Write down your plan. If you’re sleep training, write down who is going to get up when and under what circumstances. If you’re potty training, plan how you’re going to do it and decide who is on “potty” duty when.
  • Get your supplies. Make sure you’ve stocked up on everything you need—stickers, books, caffeinated beverages for you—before the break starts.
  • Talk it up. Start talking about how excited you are about training early on. Trust us: If you’re excited about it, your kid will be excited about it.
  • Don’t let setbacks get you down. There are always accidents. You will have setbacks, and that’s okay. Tomorrow is a new day.

Erin MacPherson is an author, blogger, and mom to three preschoolers. She blogs at

Strategies for Reducing Stress During the Holidays by Marianne Neifert

Remember that your own stress level and emotional state are readily transferred to your child. Lower your expectations for the “perfect” Christmas holiday and be prepared to “go with the flow” when your child’s needs call for flexibility. Keep her emotional tank full during the holiday season by scheduling daily one-on-one time to play, read, or do an activity together.

Shorten the Countdown

An extended period of anticipation can feel overwhelming to a young child. Consider waiting until mid-December to begin your holiday decorating or to use an Advent Calendar to track the days until Christmas. To defuse children’s mounting excitement about presents, let them open a few smaller gifts during the countdown to Christmas.

Don’t Make Santa Your December Disciplinarian

The anticipation, bustle of activity, and excessive stimulation during the weeks preceding Christmas already create stress and anxiety for children. Threatening that Santa will bring fewer presents if your child misbehaves only adds to the pressure and worry she feels, and ultimately proves to be an empty threat. Don’t abdicate your essential parenting role of consistently enforcing your rules and limits for appropriate behavior year-round.

Allow Children to Let off Steam

Arrange opportunities for your child to be physically active each day by playing outdoors or visiting an indoor children’s play center.

Schedule Some Quiet Time

Periodically allow your child to retreat and unwind from the excitement of holiday festivities by watching a favorite DVD or playing quietly with arts and crafts or Play-Doh.

Don’t Force Children to Sit on Santa’s Lap

While parents relish the time-honored photo of their youngster happily smiling on Santa’s lap, young children often perceive Santa as strange and scary and may violently recoil at the idea of being held by him. While waiting in line at the mall, show your child exactly what will happen if she chooses to greet Santa. If she is terrorized by the sight of a big stranger in a red suit, respect her emotional distress and show your support by not forcing her to sit on Santa’s lap.

Do you find your children to be a little stressed during the holidays? How do you schedule downtime while still participating in traditions?
Marianne Neifert, M.D., M.T.S., also known as Dr. Mom, is a well-known pediatrician, professional speaker, and author. Visit her web site,

Real Life Solutions: Divorce and the Holidays


We are proud to have Dr. Linda Mintle in ParentLife each month answering questions submitted from readers. To submit a question for Dr. Mintle, e-mail it to and include “? for Dr. Mintle” on the subject line. This month we have an extra Q&A from Dr. Mintle we wanted to share.



Q: My husband and I are divorced. Last Christmas was our first year apart, and the holidays were a nightmare. This year, we want to minimize the stress on our two young children during the holidays. What can we do to help them and have less fighting this year?

A: Both of you need to be respectful to each other at all times and stay calm and relaxed so as not to pass along stress to your children. Children can feel parental stress, but they don’t know how to cope with it. Whatever issues you fought about last year, talk about them ahead of time and try to come to agreement on those issues. Next, make sure the children see both parents during the holiday time. Work out a schedule before the season begins and stick to your plans. It helps to post a calendar for the children to see the plans on paper.

If your children are going to both homes on Christmas Eve and Day, stick to the pick-up and drop off times. Tell them to have a great time as you drop them off; sometimes kids need permission to have fun with the other parent. Encourage them to give you a few highlights of time with the other parent, but don’t prod for information.

Finally, build in some down time. Kids need rest and time to enjoy their new gifts. Take the time and make every effort to drop unimportant issues during this time of year. If you and your ex approach the holidays with a positive attitude, this will be passed on to your children.

How do you deal with holidays if you are divorced or separated?

Helping Your Children Celebrate Christ This Christmas by Cortney Whiting

With the celebrations of Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Santa Claus, it is easy for many messages to be infiltrated into the true message of Christmas.  Here are ten easy ways in which your family can remember and honor Christ this Christmas.

  1. Go to a Communion Service – if your children are too young to receive communion, explain to them what each part represents.
  2. Visit a live Nativity scene or a Walk through Bethlehem.  This allows children to experience what it might have been like on the day of Jesus’ birth
  3. Read children’s books on the story of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  Remind your kids that without the cross, there would be no need for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.
  4. Participate in a mission’s project or let your children purchase a gift for a missionary.  Explain that missionaries tell the good news about Jesus like the shepherds did.
  5. On Christmas Day, play “Find the baby Jesus.”  Place the baby Jesus from the nativity set somewhere and have your children search for Him. Give them clues from the Bible (such as He is under the star, etc.).  Allow the child who found Him to place Him in the manger (or with the rest of the nativity scene).
  6. Sing religious Christmas carols with your kids.  This may include caroling in the neighborhood or at a nursing home.
  7. Get an Advent Calendar This allows your children to anticipate the birth of Jesus every day in a fun way.
  8. Make Christmas ornaments that incorporate Bible verses about Jesus’ birth.
  9. Donate a present to someone less fortunate in honor of Jesus. Tell your children how Jesus came to earth as a Servant.
  10. Make a birthday cake for Jesus and have a birthday party for Him.

What do you do to celebrate Christ at Christmas?

Cortney Whiting is a wife and mother of two children.  She received her ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and now works as a Children’s Minister in Norcross, GA.

Celebrating Jesus’ Birthday by Jeanie McLean

source: pd2020

In “How Many Candles Does Jesus Get on His Cake?” in the December issue, Jeanie McLean offers suggestions on how to encourage children to focus on Christ during the Christmas season. Here are some additional tips and helpful links.

  • Use a child-friendly manger scene to teach the Christmas story to younger children. They can make their own manger scene out of blocks, fashioning figures from toilet paper rolls. Or use the manger scene you already own, if there are no breakable pieces or ones that would be a choking hazard. Read the story from a children’s Bible and allow children to manipulate the pieces as you tell the story.
  • Consider telling parts of the story each day, having Mary and Joseph progress to the manger from another part of your home. Set up “Bethlehem” in one area, with Mary and Joseph in another. Read the entire story on Christmas morning, when children can finally place Jesus in His manger bed.
  • Lead children to give gifts to Jesus of their time. Are there local nursing home residents who would welcome a visit from a child? Is there a community ministry your church serves that might need help stacking cans or boxes of food this month?
  • Learn more about Lottie Moon and why Southern Baptists’ Christmas offering was named for this martyr of the faith.
  • Tell your children Lottie’s story while making her recipe for tea cakes.
  • Teach younger children about missions in Asia, including Christmas stories, music, and activities at this site by the International Mission Board:
  • Show the video “Errbody in the Church Helpin’ Lottie” video on YouTube to older children.
  • Find prayer requests for international missionaries at

Gifts That Give Back by Jessie Weaver

Here’s my great Christmas confession:

  • We don’t do Santa.
  • We don’t have a real tree.
  • The very small amount of gifts that my children get from us generally come from a thrift store.

It’s not how I was raised. My sister and I always received a huge pile of presents, a few of those from “Santa.” But where are those gifts now? Except for our original Nintendo, which is happily housed with my husband and me, I have no idea. A lot of those gifts got great love: Barbies, Cabbage Patch dolls, board games. But I don’t know that our Christmases would have suffered without half of those things we wished for on long lists.

Nowadays, I prefer to keep the focus on Jesus’ gift. This year, my kids (4 and almost 2) and I will be going through Truth in the Tinsel, an Advent e-book that guides them through Scripture while we make fun ornaments. We’re also opening a Jesus-focused Christmas book every night and reading it together.

As for presents, they’ll get plenty from their two sets of grandparents, being that they’re the only grandchildren on both sides. We’ve encouraged them not to overdo it, though, because our kids already have so. many. toys. Experiential gifts are my favorites, and art supplies are basically “consumables” for little ones.

I hope my 4-year-old will be able to help me pick out some gifts that give to others, too, and start to understand that others around the world have needs far greater than ours. We start impressing this idea with packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child and continue throughout the holidays.

Here are some of my favorite gifts that give to others!

  1. For $100, you can give a family in need a goat and two chickens through World Vision. This provides a family with goat’s milk and eggs – and the families that receive them are asked to pass along chicks to other families.
  2. For just $9, you can feed a hungry baby for a week through Samaritan’s Purse. It’s Gift 40 in their catalog.
  3. Any donation is appreciated through Compassion’s fund to help provide education fees for children in need.
  4. These fun paper bead necklaces are $25, hand-crafted by women in Kenya, and help support Mercy House Kenya.
  5. Buy an adorable cupcake bib for $6 on Etsy, help support relief efforts from Hurricane Sandy.
  6. $25 from each $50 plate purchase of this cute, recycled glass plate goes to support City Harvest in NYC, an organization that raises money to feed those in need.

Do you have any favorite gifts that give back?

Turning Holiday Service into Gospel Opportunities by Tobin Perry

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source: alessandropinna

The holiday season is undoubtedly one of the best times of the year to serve others. Your family will have no shortage of opportunities―whether it’s within your church, a local service organization, or another community group.

Yet it’s also an easy time to meet physical needs and ignore spiritual ones, if you are not intentional about sharing Jesus. Here are a few tips to help your family take advantage of gospel opportunities when you serve.

  1. Pray. Ask God to open up opportunities to tell people about Jesus―and expect Him to answer your prayer! Gather together as a family to pray for several nights before the service opportunity.
  2. Talk with your kids about your desire to see people come to Christ. Let your kids know the ultimate goal of holiday service is to introduce those you’re serving to Jesus.
  3. Work hard. When serving others, your family’s first witness comes before you ever open your mouth. What does your family’s effort tell others about the God you’re serving?
  4. Be a listener and be observant. Pay attention to those you’re serving and those you’re serving with and listen for opportunities to share the gospel. Model this for your kids.
  5. Know your story. In the spirit of 1 Peter 3:15, try to make sure each member of your family (in their own way and at their own level) can answer this question: Why are you serving us in this manner? Be ready with the story of your journey with God. Service opportunities aren’t typically the time for full-fledged apologetics discussions, but they are perfect opportunities to share your testimony. Be ready to share a short version though (maybe as short as one minute), so you’re not spending more time talking than serving!
  6. Serve freely. Never be so boorish about sharing the gospel that those you are serving think you are doing so in order to win them to Christ or invite them to church. Just be ready for the opportunities God gives you. He’ll provide!

Turning service opportunities into missions opportunities for your family doesn’t have to be scary. Just keep your eyes open!

Tobin Perry serves as the online editor for On Mission magazine at the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Georgia. He and his wife, Charissa, live in Woodstock, Georgia, with their three children―all under the age of 6!

Fun Traditions and UnTraditions by G.G. Mathis

19/52 Tristan
source: edjohnson841

The November issue of ParentLife declared independence on tired and tedious holiday traditions in the article “Freedom From Tradition.” Families were encouraged to celebrate meaningfully and playfully in ways that create lasting memories, not lasting fatigue.

Need some ideas for an out-of-the-ordinary way to observe special days at your house? We’ve compiled some of our favorites:

We bought two tiny Christmas trees, one for each of our sons to put in his room. The boys were allowed to decorate the trees any way they liked. Some years, the decorations would change daily—action figures one day, paper chains the next; even socks and underwear!

Instead of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, we stock up on take-and-bake pizzas the night before. We bake them, eat from paper plates, and spend the day playing games together, not cooking!

We decided that a bunny visit on Easter Sunday detracted from the message of Jesus’ resurrection. So at our house, by mutual consent, the Early Bunny visits on the Saturday before Easter, leaving Sunday for worship and family time.

Nobody in our family cares much about football. So we plan a special dinner out on Superbowl Sunday evening. The restaurants aren’t crowded!

In our family, Roses Day (October 1) commemorates the day I received a dozen roses and a clue to the identity of the man I eventually married. Roses Day was such an important part of our family tradition, my daughter was puzzled after school one October first: “Mom, nobody at school has ever heard of Roses Day!”

Instead of a huge birthday present blowout that’s over in 10 minutes, we leave small gifts for the birthday boy (or girl) in unexpected places all day long.

We have a Thanksgiving tablecloth that comes out of storage every year. With fabric paint, each family member prints something for which he or she is thankful. It’s a great way to remember how God has cared for us over the years.

G.G. Mathis teaches preteens at Forest Park Baptist Church in Joplin, Missouri.

To Santa or Not to Santa? by Brian Dembowczyk

s41315ca105437_31.jpgHamlet almost had it right. “To be or not to be” is a great question, but for many Christians, “To Santa or not to Santa” is truly the question to ask in December. Whatever you decide, can I make two recommendations? First, let’s extend grace to one another. The unity of the church should be strong enough to withstand a man in a red suit. Second, as a parent, don’t forget to filter this issue through the lens of honesty and tactfulness.

If you choose not to include Santa in your Christmas tradition, you will need to help your child respond to others who believe in Santa. While they may be tempted to tell their friends the truth about Santa, perhaps it would be best for them to demonstrate tactfulness and refrain from doing so.

If you decide to include Santa as part of your Christmas celebration, you will need to think through the implications of presenting Santa as real. One of our goals as parents is for our children to have the confidence that whatever we tell them is true. Don’t we undermine this when we claim that Santa is real? Perhaps the better approach is simply to share that Santa is make-believe. You can still have fun with Santa without compromising your child’s trust in your absolute honesty.

There’s one other important factor concerning telling your child that Santa is real. What happens to your child’s understanding of Jesus when he learns that Santa is not real? For years you have told him that Santa was real and at the same time also told him that Jesus is real. I would encourage you to consider carefully if your child’s understanding of — and genuine belief in — Jesus is worth a brief season of believing in Santa.

Brian Dembowczyk is Associate Pastor of Discipleship and Assimilation at FBC Tampa, Florida. He is married to Tara and is father of Joshua (5) and Hannah (3). You can follow Brian on Twitter at @BrianDembo or check out his blog at


Our daughter (pictured above, with Santa at Sears) is 2 this year, and I still don’t think my husband and I have decided what to do about the Santa conundrum. He grew up not believing; I learned there was no Santa when I found his wrapping paper hiding in our basement around age 8. Did it damage me? Not much. But I see the author’s point. I’m interested to see what you have to say on the topic!

Our friend Rebecca Ingram Powell is doing a series on Santa Claus this week over at her blog that you might want to check out as well! – Jessie, Resident ParentLife Blogger