Survive the Christmas stress with the kids at home

Helen O’Callaghan explains how to stay calm despite the chaos this holiday season, from Christmas through New Year’s.

Survive the Christmas stress with the kids at home

No matter how much you enjoy your kids this Christmas, parents are almost guaranteed to feel stressed at some stage. We look at typical stressors:

Disappointment with Christmas gifts

It’s OK for children to experience disappointment, says Val Mullally, parent coach and author of Behave – What to Do When Your Child Won’t. “How do children learn to deal with disappointment in adulthood if we deny them the opportunity in childhood?”

Let them know that what they wrote Santa was a wishlist, not an order. “If children want gifts parents can’t afford, it’s OK to say ‘sorry, but no’. Presents don’t buy happiness,” says Mullally.

If they’re disappointed on Christmas Day, accept it’s OK for them to have big emotions. Immediately coming in with a solution to make your child feel better might seem like the way to go, but it’s not helpful, says Mullally.

Instead, be present to the disappointment.

“Mirror what the child’s saying: ‘so you really wanted an Xbox — tell me more’. In a softly questioning tone, say ‘you’re feeling disappointed?’ We all need to feel that somebody gets what it’s like for us.”

If your child cries tears of upset, be lovingly present and don’t demand he/ she talks about it afterwards. Once children get over the initial upset, ask ‘what can we do to have a happy Christmas?’ “This lets them know happiness doesn’t depend on things – it’s a choice.”

The kids go wild when there’s company and they get too many treats

Tell them what’s planned for the day, says Mullally: ‘Your aunt and cousins are coming for lunch. Later we’ll drive to granny’s’.

Explain seating arrangements at table if different to usual. Engage them in tasks — preparing food or dressing the table — so they feel part of it. Express in positive terms what you want.

If relatives’ tend to over-indulge children with treats, discuss boundaries ahead: ‘too much sugar gets her over-excited. It’ll be easier for everybody if she has just one treat’.

Kids underfoot for two weeks — my temper is going to fray

“When tempers become frayed, it means anger levels are rising. Anger is an inner signal that ‘I need change’,” says Mullally. Perhaps the change parents need is peace.

“Try to note ‘I’m beginning to get angry’ before you lose the cool. Rather than shouting at them to be quiet, think what you can do to get them quieter, maybe go for a walk.”

Top tips

  • Give children daily chances to work off excess energy. Take a walk in the forest or in your locality to look at Christmas lights.
  • Stick to routine. Avoid sugar overload. Always likely to cause over-the-top behaviour.
  • Anxiety is contagious. Have a strategy that keeps you relaxed, before and during guests’ visit. If you’re calm, children are more likely to be calm.
  • Avoid getting caught up in other people’s ‘shoulds’ about Christmas.

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