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  • Writer's pictureAideen McCartney

6 tips for a calm and co-operative Christmas

Who's been playing with the fairy lights again?

The holiday season is almost upon us! As exciting as it can be, I know that for many families it can also be peppered with moments of stress, emotional breakdowns and challenging behaviour.

We've all seen it - the long-awaited event is underway, and despite being so excited and having counted down the days, your child has a total meltdown half way through, or they end up in a fight or say they want to leave.

This is a very common and totally normal scenario. As wonderful as holidays can be, they often bring changes to the normal routine and rhythm of life. Kids derive their sense of safety and security from the consistency and predictability of normal life. So when holidays come along, bringing new people, environments and expectations and often changes to sleeping and eating routines, all of this change can be overwhelming and overstimulating for children. Let's be honest, it's stressful for many of us adults too!

So here are 6 tips to help your family enjoy a calm and co-operative Christmas.

1. Plan the calendar carefully

Create a calendar that everyone in the family can read or follow in some way (e.g. using pictures) and talk in advance about what is happening from day to day. Predictability breeds co-operation.

Try to have a couple of do-nothing days, to balance out the organised activities. Everyone will relish some time to stay in their PJs and enjoy with their new things. Make sure you allow time to rest and recover between big events. Adequate rest will give you the stamina you'll need to get through it all!

2. Maintain as many routines as possible

Children gain a sense of security and comfort from familiar routines. Maintaining regular bed times and meal times will help make sure that your kids are getting the rest and nourishment they need to stay emotionally regulated and enjoy the festivities. It will also help you to avoid daily battles about what time is bed time ("but you let me stay up late yesterdaaaaaayyy!")

3. Get everyone involved

From decorating to setting tables to helping make food there are so many tasks and little rituals that children can participate in over the holidays.

It's valuable to learn early in life that everyone has something to contribute to making the celebration a success. It shouldn't be one person's job to organise it all! And everyone can benefit from the lovely feeling you get when you’ve been helpful. Be sure to offer your enthusiastic acknowledgement and gratitude.

Christmas cookies for everyone!

4. Mentally prepare

Prepare your kids for success in new or unusual situations by talking in advance about what to expect and what is expected of them. Discuss any rules that might be out of the ordinary (e.g. no one is allowed upstairs in Great Aunty Joan's house) so they can avoid getting into trouble for breaking rules they weren't aware of. Also discuss and come up with plans for any challenging situations that are likely to arise.

5. Have a backup plan

In the midst of the fun and merriment there are bound to be moments when the kids become overwhelmed, overexcited or overstimulated.

Have a plan in place for how you can give them space to calm down or the loving connection they need to regain their equilibrium. This might involve cuddles, snacks, baths, books or a break from the activities in a quiet area. If you're at someone else's house, you can ask your host in advance where you can retreat to if necessary.

6. Revise your expectations

As joyful as Christmas can be, it very rarely goes exactly according to plan. Try to avoid putting pressure on yourself or your children to have ‘the best time ever’. Give yourself a break and revise your expectations about what is possible.

Remember that the most treasured memories are often made in the little moments of connection, between the big things

For more detail, check out my video on this topic. And for a printable guide that you can stick on the fridge or share with friends, please visit my Patreon page.



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