Christmas can be fun and exciting, but also stressful both for parents and children. Expectations can be high and the emphasis on having the ‘perfect family Christmas’ can highlight difficulties, especially if someone in the family is feeling depressed, anxious or having behaviour problems.
Read on for our tips on keeping calm this Christmas…
Plan ahead so older children can have time with friends as well as family, to prevent everyone getting on top of each other and winding each other up.
Set holiday boundaries around xbox, computer, games, phones etc at the start of the holidays, so everyone knows what they are allowed to do.
Agree ahead of time what jobs you will need help with, so it’s not a horrible surprise if you ask your child to help with clearing up, but they want to be playing on their new phone.
If you are in a one-parent or step-family, make a list of who needs to see who and agree it in advance so people don’t feel let down. If contact isn’t possible for whatever reason, set a time to ring or skype.
You might want to consider getting together with other families if you are a single parent, to share both the fun and the work.
If your children have homework to do over the holidays, agree at the beginning of the holiday when this is going to be done, to avoid arguments later.
Write things on the calendar so everyone knows what is happening when.
Be honest about presents, so expectations are not too high and children don’t get disappointed.
If your children ask for something really expensive and you can’t afford it, be honest and tell them that, and say it doesn’t mean you love them any less.
3. Emotions and Behaviour
Getting outside, even if the weather is rubbish, is good for everyone’s mood and helps avoid ‘cabin fever’.
Although it’s fun when routines go out of the window for a bit, if your child is constantly sleep-deprived this will affect their moods and behaviour, so encourage them to have a few early nights now and then.
Even the closest families can be annoying. It can help to make a decision early on to pick your battles wisely, and let some minor irritations go.
Remember, you don’t have to keep everyone happy all the time. If the going gets tough, see if you can escape for just a bit and let someone else take responsibility.
If your child suffers from anxiety and doesn’t react well to change, prepare them well in advance and explain to them all the things that will be different – for example not having to go to school, decorating the house and eating special food, and seeing friends or relatives.
If your child is anxious and likes routine, you can set up a Christmas holiday routine with agreed bedtimes etc to make them feel more comfortable. Then on particular days (for example Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve), you can say that things will be different for that day.
Plan ahead with your child about their feelings and how to manage if they are feeling down. For example, if they find sitting around with relatives stressful, agree a time scale such as being downstairs for half an hour, and then have an excuse they can use to leave the room, such as wrapping presents for friends.
If your child has behavioural problems, discuss with them beforehand what behaviour they need to try hard with, and offer them a reward for doing their best. Tell them what will happen if they can’t keep their side of the bargain, and follow through calmly.
If your child has mental health problems and other family members don’t know, plan ahead with your child how to handle this – they might want you to mention it in advance but for no-one to talk about it on the day.
If your child is on medication, make sure you have enough to get through the holiday period and support them to take it as being out of the normal routine can make it harder to remember.
If your child has regular mental health or therapy appointments, there will probably be a gap in these over Christmas. Make sure you and your child know the date of the next one and your child can write things down or ‘save’ them to talk about then, if that helps.
If your child has had mental health crises in the past, or you are worried that this will be a difficult time for them, make sure you ask your GP or mental health team for the number of who you should call in a crisis.
If you need support, remember there are lots of online forums such as Mumsnet where you can let off steam. Samaritans and Family Lives also have helplines you can contact.