Keeping the Joy with children at Christmas
By Sam on 6 December 2019
Keeping the Joy at Christmas
If you’re anything like me, you are presently wondering how on earth everything you need to do is going to get done in time for Christmas. As the build up to the special day is well and truly in full swing many parents find themselves exhausted. There are the darker days to contend with, school events, Father Christmas to visit, the tree and house to decorate and food and drink to think about. I suspect for many this is just the tip of the iceberg. So, what can we do to ensure that our family Christmas is a happy one for all?
The perfect Christmas?
The very first thing to say, to Mums especially, is to take the pressure of yourself. We have very high expectations of what Christmas should be like. It can be very hard when we look at other people and imagine that they have it all perfectly under control; not to mention the images in glossy magazines and the John Lewis adverts on TV. We can drive ourselves mad over Christmas with our desire to get everything perfect. The reality is, especially for working parents and those with small children, you can’t do it all – there are just not enough hours in the day. To top that off, when we think we can, and we try to do it all, we get stressed and when we get stressed our children do too because they pick up on our emotional state. This leads them into meltdowns and sibling arguments. Also, the excitement and stimulation that Christmas brings for children, not to mention the changes in routine and sugar highs can bring out the very worst in our children.
Having a fabulous Christmas means letting go of perfection and prioritising what is possible and, in fact, what is going to enable you to spend the most amount of time with your children. Because it is our time and attention that our children want most.
We often have expectations that our children will behave well in front of relatives, or at least, we hope they will. I have noticed that, very often, big family gatherings bring out the worst in my son as he simply finds all the noise and activity overwhelming. He behaves by hiding behind me and not greeting relatives, even those he knows very well, at all graciously. Many of us expect not just good behaviour from our children but for them to make polite conversation, receive unwanted gifts tactfully and not sit on their screens all day. So, what can we do to ensure that this happens?
Preparation is key
Now you might think saying ‘preparation is key’ is crazy, as you have to-do lists coming out of your ears. The question is, how much have you thought about preparing your children for what is coming up? The other day, I went to my 3-year olds nativity play at school. She cried her way through the whole thing. I always think of her as my happy-go-lucky independent girl, and forget that actually, like her brother, she also needs to be carefully prepared for things. I hadn’t thought to sit down with her and fill the room with all her toys pretending to be the audience and clap loudly so she could anticipate what it would be like. When I talked to her afterwards, she said she didn’t like all the people and the clapping and this would have been so easy to practise with her.
So, what can we do to prepare our children for Christmas? Have a think about what they might find difficult. It might be eating food that isn’t their favourite at Christmas dinner time? Or meeting relatives they don’t see very often, or it could be as simple as what time they are allowed to get up in the morning. Maybe your routine is going to be very different over the Christmas period? If so, you might want to write this out for older children and let them know what is coming up. You may want to role play receiving a gift that you don’t like.While this sounds like an extra thing for you to do, I would say, if you want a calm Christmas it is one of the most important.
Preparation like this can also help stave off those critical comments from relatives who think they know better than you about how to parent your children.If you are lucky enough to have very lovely and understanding relatives that is great. If you know that look you get that makes you feel judged, then read on!
The first thing, like all positive parenting, is to try and realise that your relatives’ beliefs come from somewhere. Just like we are curious about why our children behave like they do, what emotion is underneath that behaviour, so too do we need to have compassion for our family who have their own legacy to contend with. Being understanding that they were raised differently to how you want to raise your children will make it much easier for you to stay calm with their different opinions.
Having said that, you might also want to pay close attention to your children’s behaviour and notice when they start to get fidgety or things are about to derail. At that point make sure you can take your child somewhere more private for them to calm down. Ideally, in your preparation with your children, you will have planned an exit strategy in advance.
Finally, if you are fully on board and trained in positive parenting techniques, don’t feel the pressure to abandon what you know, in favour of what you think your relatives expect from you. Positive Parenting is about learning from mistakes and having the chance to make amends. If things do go wrong this Christmas make sure you help your children learn how to do it differently next year rather than punishing them.
Presents and gratitude
If you ask children what they would really like from their parents for Christmas you might be surprised at the answers. They very often want your presence not your presents. And even if they do want presents, they don’t need a huge amount. My 3-year-old wants some chocolate, some books and something to do with fairies, and my 8-year-old wants a toy robot and surprise. A teacher at school told me that one child wanted a register for Christmas so he could play schools at home - so they photocopied the pages of the school register for him and gave it to his Mum to make him his own register. Another friend had a daughter who wanted a snowman as a present – and she was lucky that the snow arrived in time.It is very easy for us to push what we think our children want onto them and then we often think that they are not grateful for it.
One of the things we can do at this time of year especially, is teach our children about gratitude. The best way to do this is to model it ourselves. If your child is singing Jingle Bells beautifully and it’s melting your heart, then show them how grateful you are for their cheerful tune. If you are walking or driving around the streets and the Christmas lights are making you smile, express to your children how grateful you are for people who put up lights as it cheers up the roads at Christmas. Don’t forget to appreciate your children too.Children want our attention more than they want anything else, and if we reward them with positive attention, and notice what it is that they are doing well, they will be appreciative back. Really make sure you are Descriptively Praising what they get right so they know how to do it again.
Taking care of yourself
One of the major things we can do to help everyone in our family have a calmer Christmas is to look after ourselves. It is so easy to stay up late wrapping presents and cooking food but the odd early night can make a big difference at this time of year. I have felt run ragged for the past few weeks and on Saturday night I planned to take myself to the gym and relax in the swimming pool and jacuzzi area. I dragged my sisters and Mum along too and although they were reluctant to come, they all said they felt calmer and better for it.I also got home that evening and felt in a much kinder and softer mood towards my whole family.Try to make time for yourself. If you need to ask for help, then ask a family member, your partner or exchange time with a friend.If you don’t ask you won’t be offered it and most people are really willing to help out, and they will say no if they really can’t. That applies to you too – it is OK to say no to things.With your partner make a list of what needs doing together and then divide it up between you so that the work is equally shared out. Remember – if your partner is doing it in a way that you don’t like though, don’t take over and change it.
In amongst all the craziness that Christmas brings with it, the number one thing to remember is to consider your children’s perspective.If you can understand their feelings and emotions and show them that you do you will be going a long way to a healthy relationship with your kids this Christmas.
I wish you all a very merry Christmas and I hope no matter which festival you celebrate, or what your circumstances are, and I know they are not always easy, that you have fun with your children during the festive season and enjoy their company because it is children who bring the magic to Christmas.