It’s a dilemma that leaves plenty of parents feeling less than merry every December: School closes for an extended holiday break, but the office only shuts down on Christmas and New Year’s Day. The good news is that you can skip the scramble for child care coverage with a little bit of planning and flexibility and, of course, access to qualified sitters who will make your family’s holiday a little brighter. Use these tips to get a jump on managing child care during the holidays.                                                                                                                                               

Coordinate schedules. Break out the family calendar — in order to maximize child care coverage, it’s time to sit down and strategize. Clearly mark the days when school and work will be closed, as well as any special events and other key dates. Determine how and when you and your partner will use vacation time. If you have a nanny or an after-school sitter, ask about her vacation plans during the month of December. This will give you a clear picture of your child care needs during the holiday season.                       

Consider other commitments. While you, your partner and your regular sitter may be able to cover child care during your children’s holiday break, don’t forget to consider the other commitments you have. In addition to parties and outings, it’s likely that you’ll need time to shop, cook and prepare for guests. Having child care available to you can be helpful even if it’s not a critical need. Knowing you have allotted yourself time to prep for the holidays sans kids can be a major stress reducer– even if “prepping for the holidays” really means “getting a massage.”

Hire a sitter. Whether it’s for a special night out or to cover two weeks of care, Sittercity can help you find a sitter to fit your family’s needs. (If you’re in Chicago, New York, Boston or D.C., check out Chime, Sittercity’s on-demand, at-your-fingertips babysitting service.) Post a job or browse profiles of sitters in your area. College students who are home on winter break are often a great choice for temporary child care needs. Some universities close from Thanksgiving through the New Year, which means these students are looking for part-time jobs. Keep an eye out for sitters who love crafting and baking — these activities will keep kids busy, happy and in the holiday spirit.

Maximize family time. The kids are pumped for two weeks off of school, but that excitement can quickly turn into choruses of “I’m bored.” (Sound familiar?) Plan fun family outings for the days you’ll be home — decorate cookies, bundle up to go sledding, head to the local ice skating rink, or look into kid-friendly holiday activities offered by local organizations. Also consider using time together as a family to spread cheer to others and teach your children about giving back. Volunteer to spend a morning working at a food pantry or serving a meal at a senior center, organize a coat drive, or adopt a family in need and shop together for gifts.

Plan in advance. It’s not just you — the holiday season sneaks up on all of us. After a hectic October, Thanksgiving is right around the corner — followed by the busiest month of the year for many people. To alleviate anxiety, begin planning for the holiday break far in advance; once you have the calendar for the school year, there’s no reason to wait. This gives you the opportunity to ask for vacation in advance of your coworkers, which means you’ll have a better chance of getting the time off that you want. Likewise, with sitters, it pays to book in advance. Social calendars fill up and New Year’s Eve is one of the busiest babysitting days of the year. So don’t wait — contact, interview and hire sitters early if you think you’ll need child care.

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