Managing the Chaos of Christmas

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As the end of year races towards us, amidst the bustle to finish up, tidy up and catch up… it’s worth thinking about how this change of pace affects our children.

If we briefly pause to consider some of the challenges our children will face at this time, we will be better equipped to understand the feelings and context behind any tears or troubles.

Four common challenges faced by kids at this time of year are:

Loss of routine

Most kids like things to be predictable. It helps them feel more settled and secure. With ‘school’ done, many of your child’s usual routines will have vanished!

Routines are more than just getting things done. They provide a framework that helps children to feel secure. Without them, your child may feel adrift, “bored”, or anxious.

New and tricky emotions

Your child may have recently said a final goodbye to a much-loved creche, kinder or school teacher. Goodbyes are hard!

Even if your child doesn’t fully comprehend “ending”, they will know that a change has happened. That can lead to feelings of uncertainty and worry. Your child may also be missing their teacher and their “school” routine.

Unmet expectations

Your child may assume that as they are spending more time at home, they will have more time playing WITH YOU. This is a reasonable expectation – if you’re home, and they’re home, isn’t it to spend time together?!

Yet this isn’t always possible – leading to feelings of disappointment, frustration and even anger.

It’s important to acknowledge how hard it is for your child to be at home with parents nearby but unavailable.

Big family functions

‘Tis the season … and that involves gathering the extended family together for that special day, or two, or more. The noise and bustle of Christmas or other holiday gatherings can be tricky enough, but when coupled with being with relatives who seem like strangers, it can be overwhelming for some children.

Just acknowledging these changes and challenges helps us be more responsive and emotionally connected if tears or meltdowns do occur.

How you can support your child through the holidays – As always, PREPARATION IS POWER!!

Here are my 5 go-to solutions to prepare your children for all these events

Explain what’s going to happen.

When we let kids know what will happen, and give them time to process it, we remove any nasty surprise factor.

You can do this in many ways:

In words
In pictures
In stories
In song
In play
As always, a combination is best!

Create visual plans

The lovely part of holidays – the freedom to take each day as it comes – can also be challenging for kids who love routine. One thing that you can keep consistent, is to create a plan, in picture form, of what will happen each day.

This plan doesn’t have to be written with military precision!! Rather, it’s a springboard to include your child in decision-making about the day, give them an overview of what will happen, and some choice within a general framework.

This picture plan, known as a “visual plan” is great for reducing anxiety. Children can see exactly what will happen and can independently check in on the plan as often as needed.

In our family, we commonly use a visual plan to outline the morning routine. It nurtures autonomy and reduces nagging!

Rather than asking my kids to brush their teeth or get dressed, I can just ask them “What’s next on your plan?” and then congratulate them when they work it out for themselves.

We also have a plan of the day, so that they can see the times that I will be playing with them, and the times they need to play independently.

Create stories

To explain larger events, stories can be helpful. For example if there will be a big family event, your story could start like this:

“My name is [Jo] and I am 4 years old. On Christmas day, we will go to Grandma’s house. All my cousins and aunties and uncles will be there! …”

(Then continue the story to briefly outline what will happen and who will be there.)

You would illustrate this story with photos or pictures. This type of story is called a “social story” or “social script”. Letting children SEE what will happen as well as explaining it in words is a great way to calm any worries.

Create little routines

One of my favourite micro-routines is having a goodbye song. It builds structure and routine into transitions (moving from one activity to another) and changing situations. You will use your goodbye song a LOT over the holidays. Both for your big goodbyes, eg to relatives at the end of family functions, and for your small ones, eg to swings, playgrounds, libraries, cafes and beaches!

Make time to check-in

Throughout all the rush and change in routine, make some quiet time each day just to be with your child. You might ask how they’re going or just mention how you are feeling about some of the changes. This creates space for your child to process any tricky feelings and share them with you.

At these times you may also come up with some strategies with your child to navigate upcoming situations. For example, during one of these moments my son and I decided that if it got too noisy and busy at Christmas lunch, he would come and squeeze my hand and that was my signal to take him into a quiet room and read a book together.

Remember you don’t have to do it all alone!!

If arts and crafts or creative writing isn’t your thing, you can create visual plans and personalised stories for your child in minutes with the Courageous Kids app.

Wishing you a wonderful festive season!

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Picture of Dr Kathryn Hackman
Dr Kathryn Hackman

Dr Kathryn is the founder of Courageous Kids, a toolkit for parents of of 2-6 year olds to help prepare for change and reduce the anxiety associated with new experiences.

It was inspired by her own experiences with her 5-year-old, who had no problems riding his bike down the stairs but required extra time and assistance to prepare for new events or changes. Kinder drop offs were hard! In collaboration with a paediatric psychologist and occupational therapist, Kathryn has built the Courageous kIds app, a resource that enables parents to set their children up for success with new experiences.

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