Christmas can be a wonderful and joyful time for families, but it can also be very challenging. We often have such high expectations of ourselves and of the rest of our family at this time of year – wanting so much for everything to be perfect – that it can be extremely difficult when things don’t turn out in the way we expected. We may find that our ideas about how to celebrate the festive season are very different to that of our partners’. We may have different beliefs surrounding the giving and receiving of gifts, how we wish our children to behave and our parenting values may also clash with grandparents and the wider family.
This is why it’s important to plan ahead and ensure everyone’s needs in the family are met. Here are top tips to make this happen:
- Family meetings:
With their spirit of togetherness, family meetings are an ideal starting point for discussing Christmas as this gives an opportunity to establish some guidelines and set clear expectations, as well as encouraging children to cooperate throughout the festive season. Use family meetings as an opportunity for anticipating some potentially problematic issues which may lie ahead; including the giving and receiving – and anticipation – of gifts; conflicting styles of parenting, grand parenting (and wider family) styles as well as the need for family cooperation and support throughout the festive period.
You can do this by following these five simple steps:
- Parents should meet to agree on what they will convey to their children, and be prepared to make concessions if needs be.
- Communicate your agreed expectations for the holidays to your children in a family meeting (see below for other ideas of guidelines).
- Give everyone an opportunity to express any worries or concerns they may have as this can help to guard against future power struggles and conflict.
- Agree on ‘fun’ ways to remind each other of the decisions made during the family meeting. For example, children love it when we sing them a little jingle to remind them of their commitment to listen to us and ‘behave’ instead of being behind their back and shouting at them.
- To help further strengthen the bond of the family unit, you can end the meeting with a fun Xmas-themed activity and a group hug.
- Planning Ahead:
From the buying of gifts to the cooking of the Christmas meal, a plan will always be your greatest ally in the festive run up. Plans can be made for almost everything including: travel, shopping, food, decorations, deliveries, outings, social events, the big day itself and its aftermath. If you can, try to get your children to participate in the drawing-up, as well as the execution of these plans, as this encourages children to become involved in the decision-making side of family life.
- Limited choices:
The combination of unstructured time and high levels of excitement mean that emotions can easily get a bit overwrought and power struggles begin to surface. Offering our children limited choices (that suit us as well as them!) helps them to feel empowered during what can be a confusing time for them. The choices you offer can remain simple and can be offered to a child at any age e.g. “Would you like to go up to bed now or in ten minutes?” or “Would you like to play with Granny or help me make mince pies?”
- Setting Rules:
It is essential to clarify our rules to our children, particularly when they are younger, but we need to do it in a non-confrontational way. Using the third person is always better than using the first, as it suggests that the rules apply to everyone, which makes children feel much better about following them; for example “In this family we take it in turns to open presents, rather than opening them all at once.”
- One-on-one Time:
If time and circumstance permit, try to schedule a little One-to-one Time with each of your children. As well as encouraging you to spend some real quality time with your children, One-on-one Time is a really useful way of building a connection and reducing conflict between you. But don’t forget to book some special time for yourself too – remember Christmas is not about martyrdom.
- Value setting:
Christmas is a great time to encourage children to get into the spirit of giving and sharing and generally thinking about the needs of others. Perhaps encourage them to make gifts or cards for relatives and teachers, (a picture is always appreciated) or to help choose presents. You could also include introducing the concept of giving to those in need, for example donating old toys and clothes to charity.