There’s something truly special about Christmas; magical even! I defy anyone not to turn their head in awe as they drive by a brightly decorated house, lit up in all it’s Christmas splendour or to feel that extra bit excited seeing the shopping mall Christmas tree standing proud, adorned in its ornate beauty.
Having children makes Christmas all the more enchanting. Their trusting innocence brings Christmas magic to life. Their eyes bright with wonder, they believe in all the enchanting fairy tales that accompany the Christmas story, and so, it is hard not to get caught up in their excitement and joy. Sometimes, though, the excitement and joy that we feel on their behalf is not quite what children feel. It is important that we stay mindful during the festive season and remain sensitive to the perceptions and needs of our youngsters.
My tips for keeping the Christmas Season Joyful and jolly for the whole family are based around enjoying the time to the full whilst remaining mindful and treating children with respect.
1. Ditch The Elf on The Shelf!
In fact ditch the whole notion that Santa only comes to children who are good. These empty threats used to manipulate children into behaving themselves for a month leading up to Christmas are just not respectful or in any way joyous.
For a child, imagining that someone, an elf, a fairy or Santa himself, is watching them at all times can be frightening and the goal of behaving all day, every single day, in the lead up to what is supposed to be a beautiful and magical experience for children can be impossible to live up to for youngsters.
There are some variations including the Kindness Elves introduced by The Imagination Tree which encourages the true spirit of Christmas and may be a fun addition to your households.
We have chosen to focus on an act of kindness the girls came up with themselves following a discussion about who receives presents at Christmas. The girls have decided to choose some toys to wrap up and donate to a local children’s charity. My eldest daughter was horrified at the thought of children not receiving anything at Christmas so this was her idea.
2. Give Children a Choice About Visiting Santa
Young children and toddlers in particular have a heightened sense of stranger danger, not to mention separation anxiety. It is completely normal, therefore, that they shy away from Santa’s lap and cling to their parents in fright when they see a large man in a red suit with a long white beard.
Respecting that their feelings surrounding this are completely real and valid means giving children complete control over whether or not they choose to sit on his lap and/or have a photo taken and includes avoiding coercion or bribery in order that they do choose to have that photo taken.
I am not saying give up on Santa photos altogether. We have a Santa snap for the three previous Christmases we have had children. In the first year, my 7 month old was amused by Santa and after respectfully asking her permission was more than willing to be held by him for a photo.
The following year, my (now 2) children were given the choice for a photo and although my eldest did opt to have the photo, I could tell she was not altogether comfortable sititng on Santa’s lap. We spoke about her decision afterwards and explained she did not have to have her photo taken with Santa if she did not want to. The third year, my children requested that my husband and I join them in the photo which we happily did.
This year, my children are excited to take the train ride into Santa’s grotto again. Whether or not they choose to sit on his knee for a photo will be totally up to them, though.
3. Keep Routines a Priority.
The Christmas Holidays can get crazy busy. There is so much shopping to do, functions to attend and food to prepare. Children thrive on predictability and the amount of stimulation that gets added to their lives in this month can cause them to go into overdrive.
Try to limit unnecessary outings at this time and plan for plenty of slow, home days between the chaos.
Take advantage of late night shopping so you are not trying to drag your children through crowds with endless toys to play with, sparkling decorations to investigate and music to push them into sensory overload.
Try to keep meal times, nap times and bedtimes on time. There will of course be times you may need to stretch this a little but keep it to a minimum so your children continue to acquire the adequate sleep they need to function well.
We have prepared a little book advent this year. For every day in the lead up to Christmas, the children will open one package. Inside will either be a book or an activity. The days they find a book are the days we will have a quiet day at home; no agenda, just us and the familiarity of all that surrounds us. On other days they will find a card with an event or activity. These are the preplanned functions or activities that the children will be involved in eg. Daycare Christmas concert, Christmas parties, Carols by Candlelight, present shopping for their sibling etc. The cute advent numbers were printed from Confessions of a Homeschooler‘s blog. I love them!
4. Prepare Children for Overzealous Relatives
Christmas is such a great opportunity for the family to get together and reconnect with each other but if your children are not used to a household full of loud relatives all with their own expectations of how they think children should behave, it can be daunting and in some cases terrifying.
There is always bound to be the relative who insists children say hello to them when they arrive, making them feel uncomfortable or picks them up unannounced and plonks a big kiss on their cheek before they squirm down as quickly as they can. Here’s a great article on this from Picklebums
Then there’s the family member who won’t hand over presents until children have politely said ‘thank you’. Now, before you jump up and down and scream: “But all children should be expected to say thank you”, please read this great post on the topic by respectful parent advocate, Janet Lansbury.
Other common phrases used by well-meaning relatives, not versed in accepting children’s emotions can include: “Toughen up!”, “Don’t cry!”, “Quit whinging!” or “You’re alright!” when clearly they aren’t. This can be confusing for children used to having their emotions validated and acknowledged.
As hard as it is to help children adjust to differences in expectations, it can be beneficial to gently prepare them beforehand by saying such things as: “Remember Great Grandma? She may want you to give her a kiss on the cheek. You can if you wish but it is your choice.” or, “When someone gives you a gift it is polite to say thank you. I know you are still learning this, would you like me to help you by reminding you when it comes time to open the presents?”
Another option is talking to friends and relatives before they arrive about some of the things you do differently at your place. Explaining the little things you do that are a bit different to normal and your reasons why can reduce the number of awkward moments you and your children have to deal with.
5. Enjoy Yourself
This is the month for finding your true generosity of spirit with your children. Seeing the magical wonder of Christmas through your child’s eyes sometimes means letting go of some inhibitions and revisiting your own childhood. Make time to play games with your children. Let them see you enjoy yourself. Bake gingerbreads, build snowmen (if you have snow), add glitter to your crafts, make peppermint scented play dough and join your children making a Christmas scene. There are so many memory making experiences available to you at Christmas time. Make the most of each day and create your own family memories along the way.
Wishing you all the happiest of festive seasons
I saw Santa at our local shopping centre standing next to his ‘sleigh’ for a photo today – the mother and child were sitting in his usual seat and he stood to the side. He was still in the photo, but there was plenty of space for the child to feel comfortable.
I love this!! Thanks, Melina!
I have seen our Santa have the children sit in his seat and he walks around the back of the display and stands behind the big Santa chair. That’s a cute one.
We use elf on the shelf but in a different way we make it a game everyday of where elf on the shelf is hiding. Please
What fun, mumof3, I can see how the kids would really enjoy that!
OH, what a wonderful post! So thoughtful and practical. Love it, helps me be more conscious in advance of the season on how to be more respectful of the kids’ needs during the season. And hooray you are doing a christmas book advent too!!! They are wonderful, huh 🙂 The kids love doing ours! x
Thank you, Kate! Yes, the kids are really enjoying the Advent. It’s such a special time of the year, isn’t it 🙂
Love the article and the idea of treating your kids with respect. As a non-parent, I”d like to heartily second the idea of preparing guests in advance for any “outside the box” type things you do with your kids. I certainly don’t want to make the children or parents uncomfortable or offended, but I can’t always keep up with all the different parenting trends – it seems like every family puts a little different spin on things. I find it hurtful when I do something with good intentions and am admonished or given a dirty look. Explaining in advance makes things more comfortable for everyone involved and is also much more respectful of your guest.
Thank you for providing that perspective, Becky! Indeed, it can be just as uncomfortable for the relatives if they inadvertently put their foot in it and really helpful to have them understand your family’s ways of working beforehand to avoid those situations!
Had been wondering ways to make the holidays more special as we go out and about and loved your special packages idea under item #3! Thank you for that!!! It has given me the structure I needed!
Love your blog, love your posts!
Such great advice Kate! Sharing 🙂
I love your advent calendar idea: including all those events is a stroke of genius. My kids are exhausted by all the parties, kindy graduation and “must catch up before the end of the year” outings. I keep reminding myself that however tired and overwhelmed I am feeling, my kids are feeling it too. Thanks also for reminding me that the Santa threat is just plain mean 🙂
Great post and reminder of many things we put our kids thru at this time. I’m big on the “thank you” thing for her gifts after years if niece’s never doing this….but will ease up on this one!!!! Thanks!!
Thanks for this post! My kids are tired. I’m tired. The past few weeks have been hectic and overwhelming, and I’m now getting anxious that my kids will get in trouble from older relos for not saying thank you before they receive their present. You’ve reminded me to go a bit easier on my kids, so thank you. xx
Lots of great tips, thanks for sharing. My 6 year old has the present-bribing thing totally down pat herself. She has put a beautifully wrapped present in her own hand-made paper under the tree for me, but every time I ask her to tidy up she takes it away. I have been warned that if she needs to take that present away one more time I will not be getting a present at all!
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