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Family Almanac

How to help kids think outside the box

(Hadley Hooper for The Washington Post)

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By Marguerite Kelly
Thursday, December 16, 2010

Readers tend to send the same holiday questions to Family Almanac year after year, but too late late to have them published. Today we're using a few letters that came a year ago.

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Eggs aren't just for Easter

One frazzled mother asked how she could calm her children down on Christmas morning: "The day starts with joy and excitement," she said, "but a couple of hours later, someone is always in tears."

My response: Your children will act better when you bring them some protein to put in their bellies. They'll eat it if it tastes good, if you tell them that a special breakfast by the tree is a new family tradition, if you let them eat while they play with their toys and if you don't put much candy in their Christmas stockings. Sweets make the blood sugar drop, and then a child gets crabby.

This breakfast will be easy to fix on Christmas morning if you set out the dishes and silverware, fruit, butter and jam near the tree the night before. Put a pitcher of juice, some sausage links, a bowl of beaten eggs (with cheese, please), a few croissants and a pot of cocoa in the fridge. Put coffee in the coffeemaker.

The next morning, it won't take long to cook the sausage, heat the croissants and the cocoa, scramble the eggs and bring it all to the tree. And yes, one of them will spill their cocoa or drop jam on the rug, and the dog will make off with some of the sausage, but so what? These are the things of which memories are made, and they will be happy memories if you can take the calamities in stride.

A bad case of the gimmes

Another reader wrote, "I love the holidays, but they bring out the greed in my children. From Halloween to Christmas Eve, all I hear is 'gimme, gimme and gimme.' How can I make them think of others instead of themselves?"

My response: Your children will think of others and do for others if you teach them to give to others, starting with candy they can make with their own hands. It's cheap to give, fun to make, and it's a whole lot easier to beat a batch of fudge with an electric mixer than decorating those wretched Christmas cookies.

For candymaking to be a truly sweet experience, find a half-dozen safe and simple recipes like the one at right. Let each child choose the recipe he wants to make and decide how the rest of the family should help him. There are few things children like better than telling their parents and siblings what to do, and then seeing that they do it. Just be sure to handle any boiling syrup yourself.

When every batch is finished, the children should put some of each candy into small baskets and take them to their friends and neighbors, so your children will find out how good it feels to be a giver as well as a getter.

You can also teach your children the joy of helping strangers by going through their outgrown furniture to see if you have a potty chair, a crib, a stroller or a highchair and then taking these things to A Wider Circle. This small organization helps families furnish their new apartments when they leave a shelter. To learn more, call 301-608-3504 or go to www.awidercircle.org .

What do kids want?

And then there are the questions this column gets from grandparents who live far away and don't know what their grandchildren want or need, especially if the young ones have developmental problems.

As one reader wrote, "Do I cater to the special needs of a grandchild with cerebral palsy, or do I ignore her CP and buy a present that any 4-year-old would want? And what about my 12-year-old grandson, who is a reluctant reader; or my granddaughter, who is 14 and does nothing, I think, but text and tweet?"

My response: A special-needs child wants the same kind of presents that other children get, as long as she can master them. A 4-year-old can learn to measure if you give her the book "How Big Is the Lion?" by William Accorsi (Workman, $15), which comes with a ruler and a growth chart.

For older grandkids, children's books are probably best because this literary genre is quite wonderful. As Harry Potter has taught us, good books turn children into readers. Harry may be too hard for your reluctant reader, but he should adore "Percy Jackson and the Olympians," a boxed set by Rick Riordan (Hyperion, $20). The older grandchild may even stop texting if you give her "The Unfinished Angel" by Sharon Creech (HarperCollins, $16). Her writing is angelic.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com .

More advice

Chat Thursday at noon Marguerite Kelly will be online for a live Q&A about parenting and family relationships. Submit questions at washingtonpost.com/liveonline.

Next week Kelly responds to a parent with a 13-year-old daughter who has trouble getting along with others.

More columns Read past advice from Kelly, along with columns by Carolyn Hax and Dear Prudence, at washingtonpost.com/advice.

Kid events Find family-friendly event listings at goingoutguide.com/kids.


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