Christmas Parenting Tips
We all want Christmas to be a magical and happy time for our children. However, the extra demands and stresses on parents during the festive season, combined with highly excitable children, can mean that it doesn’t always live up to expectations. While the usual tips for better organisation and careful planning can go a long way to relieving some of the pressure, it is worth taking time to consider how to avoid some common causes of family tension.
Your Child’s Temperament
Sensitive children may be concerned about Santa coming down the chimney. In this sense, it’s important to think a little in advance about your child’s temperament and their current worries, and adapt Christmas “traditions” accordingly. Perhaps leave stockings in a living room rather than at the end of the bed, with clear statements that Santa doesn’t like to wander around the house.
If you have an excitable child, remember to build exercise time into the days around Christmas as well as opportunities to calm down and relax. If this involves letting go of any usual rules (e.g. around TV time) then remember to be clear that you are making an exception as a Christmas treat and that things will return to normal afterwards.
Remember the importance of sleep: Even children over 5 will struggle and their behaviour will deteriorate if their sleep routines are disrupted, especially if it’s for more than the occasional night. Try to stick to the usual routines where possible and ensure that late nights do not become consecutive or the norm.
It can be very disappointing for children (and parents) when the pile of presents under the tree is decimated in a matter of minutes and you’re still hearing cries for more. In addition, if you have extended family or friends sharing Christmas, they may have expectations of how the children should behave. Preparing the children in advance, explaining how you expect them to behave and checking they have understood can be very helpful:
• Involving children in giving out presents to others helps avoid the focus being entirely on them.
• Introducing turn-taking for opening presents and agreeing that children say thank-you to the giver before they get another one extends the present opening time.
• Discussing in advance a “stock response” to thank someone even if they don’t like a present. From a child’s perspective it is difficult to understand that being honest isn’t always the socially appropriate thing to do and that there are times when not telling the truth to save someone’s feelings is OK. This is an opportunity to explicitly discuss social rules around white lies and when it is ok to not tell the truth to avoid someone feeling hurt.
• Remember that siblings will make comparisons between presents as early as 3 and that box size is more important than price for little ones.
• Staggering presents over a couple of days can be helpful to lessen the potential anti-climax after Christmas Day.
• Children won’t value presents if they are given too many.
• If you find yourself tempted to buy very expensive gifts, think carefully about the reasons behind it. If you find that you feel guilty because you’ve had other things on your mind or you’ve been working hard, then instead use the Christmas period to try to spend some one-to-one time with your children (one of the potential benefits of a house full of people!)
If you have concerns (other than those relating to presents) about your children’s behaviour in front of family members, it is helpful to think about your expectations with your children so that everyone is clear before the visit. However, if you are insisting on behaviour that you don’t normally expect (e.g. eating with cutlery when your child often uses his fingers) then make a decision about whether you are really committed to the idea and ensure that your child has time to practise any new rules in advance.