There is something about this time of year – at least in the northern hemisphere – that feels heavy to many of us. The days are shorter. The lively colors of spring, summer and fall have turned to shades of gray. It’s hard to keep ourselves upbeat and on track, much less our kids.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to reclaim this season and make it great! The solution, of course, involves work – because that’s just how life is. You get out what you put in. But hard work pays off, and I encourage you to join me in giving it a go by taking these 5 steps:

1. Anticipate the situations that might be challenging for you, and decide some ground rules ahead of time. Don’t try to wish away those situations you know happen year after year. This may be obvious, but it doesn’t work.

Let’s say you’re committed to eating healthy, and you make the educated guess that there are going to be lots of sugary treats at school and at friends’ houses over the next month or so. You might decide that you’re not going to worry too much about limiting sweets outside your home, but that you’re going to do away with dessert and sugary snacks in your house during this time.

Or you know your family is coming into town and that your dad gets upset when the kids don’t want to kiss him hello. You contact him ahead of time and say, “Hey, Dad, I know you’re super excited to see the kids after so long, but even though they love you, it takes them a while to warm up, and they might not be ready to hug or kiss you right away. They’ve been really silly lately, though. You might come up with some kind of goofy greeting like a knee tap or a butt bump, or ask them how they’re saying hello nowadays”.

2. Get on the same page as your partner, if you have one.

There’s nothing worse than getting into it with your partner when you’re already annoyed with your kid. Have a short meeting in the next day or so, and brainstorm sticky situations that might come up. (Hint: Think about years past!) Maybe decide who’s going to take the lead in specific situations. Often times we have very different triggers than our partners, which is great! My husband, for example, struggles with food and weight issues and I don’t, so the struggles with kids around food I handle. He can sometimes jump into silliness more quickly than I can, so I look to him when we need some goofiness to get us through.

3. Pick your battles. Don’t just set limits willy nilly. Take a moment to decide whether you really need to – or want to.

Not every request for a cookie is equal. Your daughter wants to know if she can have another cookie. Now! But that “now” can look like a third cookie at a special birthday celebration in the middle of the day, or a “just one cookie” as you’re headed up to brush teeth and go to bed. Avoid playing cop. Instead, be flexible in your responses.

4. Balance the “no’s” with fun times. Think about fun stuff you can do as a family as well as one-on-one with your kids, and calendar it like you would a business meeting.

You need not take fancy vacations. The point here is to connect and enjoy one another. Art projects, hikes, family movie nights with popcorn. Spontaneously, let your child know you’ve got 20 free minutes before leave for your meeting, and ask what s/he’d like to do. You might be in for a fun surprise!

5. Make sure you’re in a routine of feeding your own needs and desires, so that you have the patience to listen to your little ones when those challenging situations do arise.

What feeds you? Tea with a friend? Thrift shopping? Exercise? There’s no right way to nourish yourself, but it is really really important to figure out what makes you feel great, and calendar some of that too!

Here’s to a connected and fun holiday season!