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A positive parenting approach to Christmas

Christmas is a special time to share with children. But it also brings lots of challenges. Children can find it hard to cope with all that anticipation and excitement. And big emotions can lead to big meltdowns. Desperate for everything to be nice, parents often feel wary of disciplining children in case it ruins the Christmas spirit (especially in front of the in-laws). Add in lack of sleep, too much sugar and disrupted routines and, unsurprisingly, the results can be a bit fractious!

Here are my top five positive parenting tips to help you enjoy Christmas with children and manage any sticky bits.

Remember to relax

Christmas is all about spending time with family. And it’s hard to spend quality time with your children when you are in the kitchen peeling endless potatoes. If the trimmings are overtaking Christmas, it’s time to rebalance and prioritise presence not presents. Spend as much time as possible playing, snuggling, laughing, relaxing, de-stressing and building relationships.

Have realistic expectations

Your children are not going to morph into angels just because it’s Christmas Day. You might wish to present a neat, well-behaved and best version of your kids to your wider family but that’s not really fair and just sets them (and you) up to fail. Young children thrive on routine. Early waking, a late unfamiliar lunch and no nap will put the sweetest three-year-old out of kilter. The excitement of Christmas can be overwhelming for small children who are not yet able to manage big feelings. So have realistic expectations and remember that “special” does not equal “perfect”.

Plan ahead

Spend a bit of time before the festive period thinking through how things will go and identifying those high risk sticky moments. Plan travel and festivities to avoid disrupting sleep and mealtimes. Prepare some engaging activities to entice reluctant teens to participate and to keep younger ones busy.  Make sure you have to hand all the props that will help the day run smoothly (don’t forget the batteries!). And try not to wind the kids up to a fever pitch of excitement in the run up to Christmas.

Set some ground rules

Once you have anticipated the pitfalls, set some ground rules so the kids know what behaviour is expected from them. They might be general ground rules for being at Grandma’s house (eg “walk in the house don’t run“) or more specific ones about sitting up for lunch (“keep your bottom on the chair“) or snacking (“ask before you eat“). Remind them about the rules at timely intervals. And use praise and rewards for sticking to the rules.

Think through in advance what your options are for discipline strategies if there is any difficult behaviour. (Especially if you will be away from home). Is there a quiet room you can take your child to for a few minutes if they are getting over-excited? Plan ahead and agree the response with your partner. The last thing you want is for one of you to get wound up and threaten something daft (like taking away a gift) in the heat of the moment. Step in early before things get out of hand with a reminder about the rules.

Manage the wider family

Often the hardest thing about Christmas is managing the adults. Grandparents who give your two-year-old chocolate for breakfast. Aunts who tut when you tell your child off. Feeling watched while your little one has a tantrum. If you have set any rules, then make these clear to everyone. Try to be on the same page with your partner if you can. You will have had different Christmas traditions as children and probably have different approaches to the festivities. So talk through what matters to you as a family and resolve any differences using problem-solving. And divide the workload fairly so everyone gets a break.

Just like families, Christmas is never ideal. But with a good dose of realism, laughter and planning, it will have moments to make it special.

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