Last year (and the year before, and the years before that), our child fell apart between Christmas and New Year's, and so did I. I'm determined this won't happen to us this year. All ideas gratefully accepted, writes the mother of a 6-year-old in Annandale.

A. Each year parents knock themselves out for Christmas -- and so do children. Everyone becomes paradigms of goodness until we all fall in a heap when it's done.

This is only to be expected.

Today is the day to pick up the pieces, literally and figuratively, but you'll be doing most of it yourself. At this point your child has very little left to give. She's eaten enough candy to get the shakes for a week; received enough toys to stock an orphanage and shed tears to wash his old teddy bear, if only in relief that it's still the best toy of all. w

This, then, is a day to count blessings: for the work that's gotten done this year, in spite of everything; for the illnesses that never happened; for the move that wasn't necessary after all.

Keep repeating them to yourself as you stuff the broken crayons back in their new box; count (or better yet, don't count) the 51 cards left in the once-used deck and sweep up another ornament from under tree. After all, they're only things. Christmas is for people, and so is today.

Give your place a quick pick-up -- no more than a half-hour -- grab your flock and SCAT.

You need to get out -- so you don't see the mess -- and your child needs to be part of the big world again, so he can find his place in it once more. He's been the center of attention so long he'll be relieved to get back to normal, but it can't be too sudden. He'll get a case of the bends if he comes up too fast. That's why he needs a day or so to drift, to hang onto his fantasies a little longer, watching the stuffed reindeer float up and down the glass bubble at White Flint; looking at the Tree of Peace on the Ellipse; going to the top of the Washington Monument (again!) or visiting the Air and Space Museum.

Whatever possible, let your child lead the tour, dilly-dallying as much as he likes. This is good time to remember that parents don't have to run everything all the time.

For those children who are extra active, consider the ice-skating rinks. Although the District Recreation Department offers little daytime skating this vacation, the Sculpture Garden rink at 7th and Constitution NW has 2-hour holiday sessions this week at $2 for either adult or child, plus 75 cents for skate rental.

There are rinks at the four regional parks in Maryland -- Wheaton and Cabin John in Montgomery County, and the Calvert Road and Tucker Road parks in Prince George's. They charge $1.75 for adults; $1 for children and 85 cents for rentals -- all for two-hour sessions -- but the Mt. Vernon rink at 2017 Belle View Blvd. in Virginia has the same price today and tomorrow and the session lasts from 9:30 to 6, with all-day sessions next Monday and Tuesday, too.

Weather permitting, there should be good tramping in these parks, and in the zoo, along the C & O canal, and atthe Navy Yard at 9th and M Streets SE. Here a child is welcome is scramble on old cannons, peer through periscopes and ankle through both the Navy and Marine museums.

If your palate is ready to change tempos too, hot soup and a sandwich is first-rate at the Golden Temple, 1634 Wisconsin Ave. NW, where the food is so good your child won't realize it's vegetarian. There is also the New Village, 717 H St. NW, for tea and dim sum, the meaty, puffy chinese pastry.

For one last treat, there is "Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang," rated G. It's based on a super book by Mordecai Richler, and if the movie is half as good, your child will love it. It runs once only at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 30, for the benefit of Living Stage, and costs $4 for adults and $3.50 for children. But call Arena first (554-9066) and get the tickets today; ought to be a sellout.

Parents Alert: For those parents eho expect to be sent overseas, consider "Family Life Around the World." The course will be given in January by the Home and School Institute, cosponsored by the Inter-American Society and running for four full Saturday at Trinity College.

The institute expects to cover Africa, China, Sweden, Israel, Latin America and Pakistan, drawing its lecturers busically from foreign-service personnel from other countries. They will talk about the religious climate; social services; technocracy; pre-school care; discipline; marital relations; child abuse; adoption; birth rate; the role of women; rural and urban life styles and whatever government policies affect the family. To register, write the institute in care of Trinity College, Michigan Avenue and Franklin NE, Washington, D.C. 20017. The cost: $60 for parents; $160 for teachers earning credit.