By Dr Sarah Mundy, Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Author of Parenting Through Stories
In case you hadn’t noticed, Christmas is coming, and fast! It’s different this year, without nativity plays, big get-togethers and light turn-ons. But it’s still happening, as both we, and our children well know!
My three-year-old is already telling me that it is “Christmas tomorrow” on a daily basis (to be fair he also thinks it’s still Halloween so he’s not particularly accurate in his understanding of seasonal activities!). He is, however, starting to get excited.
He’s remembering the elves escapades from last year, asking when they are coming back (I still haven’t found them in my cluttered house so am using (s)elf-isolation as an excuse for their delay!). Why I added the nightly task of creating funny Elf scenes throughout December to the already huge list of Christmas jobs is beyond me, but at least he likes it! I was also quite proud of last year’s zip wire adventure.
It’s great he’s excited, but this can spill over into exhaustion and unhelpful behaviour. Here are some tips for helping your child manage their excitement about Christmas, as well as you getting ready for the big day with less pressure.
I hope it will help your child, and you, to find Christmas more enjoyable and less overwhelming.
1. Be Prepared
I am often amazed how some parents manage to be ready for Christmas months in advance. I fall into a different category, rushing around at the last minute in a rather unhelpful way. Being prepared in advance can save so much stress for you. It may be that you have to let your child have a bit more screen time whilst you write lists and coordinate plans but you will feel so much happier if you feel ready in advance.
2. Manage Your Own Stress (and Expectations)
Some parents thrive off Christmas, others just about survive. Try to remember that it is impossible to be perfect (have a look at my most recent blog on why being good enough is good enough – https://bit.ly/2IHutU4). Children pick up on stress and Christmas certainly can add to ours. It is so important to look after yourself and schedule time for self-care, including enough sleep (this can be the first thing to go out of the window).
Think about what your children would prefer – everything perfect with a stressed parent or a calm and relaxing time with the family (with a few things forgotten)? Ask yourself – have you ever not been ready in the past? If you have missed something, has it really been that bad? Christmas is going to happen and you are going to do your best – stressing about what else you could have done is not going to help you along the way…and there’s always next year, and the next!
As with all things in parenting your modelling is key - children will feel much calmer if you do.
3. Stick to Routines
We know that children feel much happier when things are predictable and containing. Structure is so important for them. However, it may feel that routines fall by the wayside in our preparing for Christmas. Try to ensure that you stick, as best as you can, to bedtimes and family meals and make sure you get outside as part of your daily routine. Eating sweets can become more regular during the build up to Christmas but remember that sugar is not always our children’s (or our) friend. Try to limit sweet treats at home over the Christmas period if you can.
4. Meet Their Excitement with Calm
When excitement builds children can struggle to manage their feelings and behaviours. This may be particularly true this year when children have had much less interaction and stimulation than normal – Christmas may be the first truly exciting prospect for them (and you) in what has been a particularly hard time.
Whilst it’s lovely seeing a little one full of seasonal joy, there are times that it gets too much, affects their sleep and makes parenting that bit more difficult. I’m not suggesting you suppress their fun, just try to integrate calm times along the way. This might include you scheduling in down time or staggering the more exciting activities over the month.
A dad that I work with gave the lovely analogy of a coke bottle which will fizz everywhere when shaken up, describing to his daughter that they have a little glass of coke every now and then, and that’s much more enjoyable than an explosion (referring back to my restricting sugar comment you could also choose fizzy water as an analogy!).
Helping children understand and manage their feelings will be really important – and this is not just relevant to excitement but also sadness around what they may be missing this year. Have a look at my blog (https://bit.ly/3n5ZDU5) for more about co-regulation.
5. Ask Others for Help
You may have less pressure on you with a smaller family Christmas this year, or more things to do with fewer helpers. This doesn’t mean that you have to do it all alone. Even if it’s virtual your support network is still out there. Do ask for help when you need it – Christmas is a time of giving and I’m sure people will be more than happy to be there for you, you just need to let them know you need it. For example, I have asked my mum to come and take away bags for the charity shop and help declutter the house, something which massively eases the pressure for me and allows me to focus on getting ready for Christmas.
Even young children can be involved in helping with food preparation and older siblings can be a great distraction for little ones when you have things to do. Children generally like to be involved so get them on board as soon as you can.
It’s going to be a different Christmas this year. There will be lots of the normal traditions missing, and this is going to be sad (I am upset that my son is not going to be in a nativity play before he starts big school next year). Do try to focus on some of the positives this may bring – such as more time as a family, less pressure to make costumes and bake for the school fair. I hope you manage to get there with minimal stress and find the time to connect, relax and enjoy.
Happy Christmas to you all!
P.S. If you’re looking for Christmas present ideas then our children’s book, Please Stay Here – I Want You Near, makes a perfect gift for a child starting school or childcare next year. Our Parenting Handbook is a great gift for parents who want to learn more about how they can support their child through common everyday challenges. Both can be bought on Amazon https://amzn.to/3acAofh or on our Facebook Shop. Do follow our Social Media for our Christmas giveaway and discounted books…