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How to Cope with Holiday Changes

This season, serenity starts at home. Here's how to handle five family conflicts that threaten to take the happy out of your holidays.

You and your husband usually treat the kids to a trip during winter break, but finances are too tight this year. There's even less money to spend on presents.

Festive Fix
While you don't want to worry your kids, it's okay to be honest about the situation. "You're helping them mature by preparing them for the realities of life," says Vicki Courtney, author of 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter (B&H Books).

Explain the circumstances matter-of-factly: "Because we have less cash, we'll be skipping the trip and cutting back on spending." Reassure them by saying it's hopefully temporary and remind them that being together is what makes the season special. Don't feel bad for not doing more. "Apologizing could give kids the idea that fancy gifts are owed to them and might even foster a sense of entitlement," says Courtney.

Keep expectations in check by establishing a spending limit for each child. Their wish list items should fall below that amount and should be prioritized according to what they need most. To deemphasize materialism, plan a few activities that involve helping others who are less fortunate, like collecting items for a local food bank or delivering meals to elderly neighbors in need.

On Christmas Eve, your family always attends midnight Mass. But your teenage daughter is exploring atheism and says she no longer believes in God.

Festive Fix
Try not to feel threatened by your daughter's refusal to follow your faith. "It's normal for teens to start thinking independently, looking at life from different angles and making their own decisions," explains Susan Smith Kuczmarski, Ed.D., author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager (BookEnds Press).

See if you can appreciate your daughter's newfound open-mindedness while reminding yourself that many kids question religion at some point in their lives. Instead of overreacting as she immerses herself in this exploration, become knowledgeable about different philosophies so you can discuss them with her. Share what you believe without seeming like you have all the answers. Ultimately, let your daughter know you'd like her to attend Mass because it's what the family does together, but don't pressure her. Forcing the issue may make her resent your faith and jeopardize your relationship. And don't be surprised if she skips Mass this year but decides to revisit religion in the future. People often return to the beliefs of their youth.

It's your turn to host the first night of Hanukkah and you need help with the cooking and cleaning. Your husband is watching the game and your two sons are glued to their computers.

Festive Fix
Resist yelling or getting mad; it won't help. "There's a good chance the guys will continue doing what they're doing, angering you even more," says Michelle Maidenberg, Ph.D., who teaches cognitive behavioral therapy at New York University. Instead, have a heart-to-heart talk with your husband about preparing for your guests. Start out by acknowledging his previous efforts while asking him to take on a few more tasks. Say, "Thanks for cleaning the bathroom. I'm still feeling overwhelmed with everything left to do. Would you mind peeling the potatoes?" It's best not to deliver a written list; he might feel too bossed around.

Once your husband's on board, you can rally your sons. Ask for their attention and calmly explain that they're essential to the plans: "Tonight's going to be a lot of fun, but dinner is a team effort and everyone should pitch in." Itemize tasks one by one and let them take turns choosing what they want to do. Give them clear instructions and deadlines, or they may think it's okay to wait and take out the trash in a few hours, says Maidenberg. Maintain an upbeat attitude and emphasize how much you rely on them—and appreciate their work.