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'90s FAMILY : You, Too, Can Survive the Holiday Visit

November 16, 1994|KATHLEEN O. RYAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Remember the old days of spending the holidays with relatives, especially the ones you barely knew?

Well, the holidays are here again. Now you're the parent, the aunt, the uncle or the grandparent and the thought of several days of family togetherness is making you feel more than a little anxious.

Holidays being stressful enough, preparing your children and your hosts for your stay can make the difference between a good time and needing another vacation when the trip is done.

In his latest book, "Touchpoints: The Essential Reference" (Addison-Wesley, 1994), noted pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton discusses telling children old enough to understand what behavior you expect of them and rehearsing it ahead of time.

"Learning manners should be on a short-term basis. You can't expect small children to live up to those expectations for a lengthy visit," he said in a telephone interview.

Brazelton recommends that grandparents be respectful about treats, indulgences and their own children's efforts to discipline.

Nancy Fisk-Maletz, a Westlake Village marriage, family and child therapist, and mother of three, reminds parents not to lose their sense of self.

"When many of us return to our parents' homes, we stop behaving as functional adults. We no longer become our children's parents, but our parents' children," she said.

Discuss with your hosts ahead of time your children's likes and dislikes, said Newport Beach family therapist and grandmother Claire J. Lehr, who co-authored "Club Grandma, Etiquette, Privileges, and Official Duties of Today's Grandmother" (Long Meadow Press, 1994), with her daughter Leslie Lehr Spirson.

"Everyone needs to communicate their needs. Don't make assumptions about meals, sleeping arrangements or baby-sitting," she said.

Comply with the house rules even if you don't agree with them, Fisk-Maletz said.

"Holiday visits are not the time to try and change something that's bothered you for years. Choose your battles."

All agree that flexibility is essential to a positive visit and offer these additional tips for a smoother stay:

* Make sure everyone you're visiting knows your itinerary.

* Infants are notorious for not sleeping well in strange environments. If you believe your baby will keep the entire house up all night, stay at a hotel.

* Stick to a baby's eating and sleeping schedule. Bring all your own supplies.

* Don't expect babies who are passed around a lot to be happy.

* If your child is old enough to crawl, discuss child-proofing for household hazards and breakables. This will ultimately put your hosts at ease and keep you from constantly telling your child "no."

* Plan activities so kids can let off steam. Find out what sights are near where you'll be staying.

* Bring favorite items from home for fun and comfort. Find out what toys your host might have on hand.

* Don't force children to be affectionate when they are unsure or uncomfortable about someone.

* Share positive memories with your children about the relative you're going to visit. Show them old pictures of when you were a kid.

* Be respectful of your hosts' wishes. Pitch in and don't interfere.

* Try to find some solitude. Take a walk or a bath for self-preservation.

* Be appreciative. Bring a gift. Send a thank-you note with a photograph.

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