12/20/2011 12:46 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2012

Lights, Presents, Sugar... Action! Minimizing Holiday Overload, Maximizing Holiday Family Fun

The countdown has begun, for young and old.

This is one of my most favorite times of the year, except for one thing: Christmas Day starts too early in the Dr. Gwenn house. We celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah and, I'll admit, one of my most favorite parts of Hanukkah, aside for torching the many Menorahs we have at home, is the very human hour it occurs. I'm awake at Sundown. I can enjoy the moment at Sundown. I don't have to worry about needing a big blast of caffeine to get my eyes open and brain functioning as someone whose holiday starts to occur in the dark.

Contrast that to Christmas where, at least in our house, music starts blaring at 4 to 5 a.m. (I so wish I was exaggerating), the tree lights begin to blink and my family gathers on our bed staring at me while I use every ounce of energy to open my eyes and attempt to be "Christmasy". In the past, the girls would have to wait for me to make coffee before we could start our Christmas morning celebration. Now, thanks to my coffee maker timer, I have that covered... plus, I taught my youngest daughter how to make coffee just in case the timer glitched! One would think that teenagers would want to sleep a tad later, even on Christmas. Not my teenagers. Thanks to their dad, a big kid at heart, they are now programmed to get up at this inhuman hour each and every holiday. So, for those of you with wee ones at home, we can all have a virtual toast of java as we all attempt to be merry before the sun rises!

Add to the early start that most of us will have on days like Christmas holiday visiting, the excitement of gifts and a very sugary day, holiday celebrations can become a tad tricky to navigate at times.

Before you break into a sweat wondering how you'll get through these holidays that always start off grand but end up with more than a few speed bumps throughout the day, let me share with you a few tips I've picked up during my 17 holiday seasons with kids:

  • Be realistic about what you and your kids can put on your holiday plate

  • I know -- it's tempting. Five parties in 10 hours in two, or perhaps three, different states. You say to yourself and your spouse: "How can that not work?" Really... I know. We've been there a few times and, well, never get past State No. 1 before recognizing mistake No. 1. Kids and party hopping don't mix. It's one thing to gather at Grandma's house at some point during the day but another to go from there to Aunt Jane's for dessert and Uncle Pete's for a night cap. Keep it simple.

  • If the kids have an opinion, listen to it.

  • One of the biggest gripes of kids is that we, parents, don't listen to them. We have to remember that this is their holiday, too. Instead of dictating to them what we're going to do, talk to them about your thoughts for the holiday and see what they have in mind. Especially for older middle school and high school kids, it's important to involve them. If they truly don't want to visit with relatives, take a step back and ask yourself if that's really necessary to do, especially if your teens don't know the relatives too well.

  • Pay attention to sleep, down time and snacks.

  • With all the excitement of the holidays, everyone becomes a little sleep deprived and regular meals don't always occur. The more you try to come close to a "normal" routine, the more likely everyone will be even-keeled as the early wake-up times catch up to them. One of the best ways to avoid sugar overload is to make sure everyone is having three regular meals each day. That way no one will be ravenous and will only have a nibble of the sweet. Once the new year begins, make sure your family has a sugary treat from time to time. Kids who learn to navigate treats tend to not binge when faced with them at holidays.

  • Health comes first.

  • One of the least favorite parts of my job when I worked in the ER or Urgent Care center around the holidays was having to explain to a very nicely dressed family that a child was too sick to attend an event. The bottom line is that if a child has a symptom that would ordinarily keep him or her home from school or day care - fever, cough, vomiting, requiring an antibiotic - that child is too sick to attend a party. We have to remember this is flu season and not only do we have to allow the sick child time to get better but have to keep exposure to other people to a minimum. We can't guarantee at these events that everyone is well. There could be people coming down with illnesses or people whose immune systems are weakened from disorders we don't know about. So, if your child is sick, stay home. It's best for everyone.

  • Talk to your kids about handling gifts that don't seem quite right

  • This is a slippery slope in many families and I've heard of wars breaking out among relatives for gifts that didn't go over well. Keeping in mind that the person giving the gift likely has the best of intentions and put time and thought into the gift, the best lesson for our children is to learn to be gracious and say "thank you" on the spot, and deal with the logistics privately at home. Perhaps you can return the gift after the holiday. Or, give it to charity if there isn't a gift receipt. Most kids are more than willing to do that when it's pointed out that they had the opportunity to have a great holiday but some kids never do.

    For more holiday tips, stop by Pediatrics Now this week.

    Good luck navigating the next two weeks. I have no doubt you'll pull it off! How will you know, you may wonder? Easy. When everyone crashes at the end of a busy holiday event, exhausted but with a smile on their faces, you can sleep easy knowing the day was a success.

    Happy Holidays!