Christmas…Like the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” While we cherish meaningful time with those dearest to us, these highly charged celebrations often stress parents, over-stimulate children, and incline both to volatile behavior. Seven simple ideas will protect the Joy of the Season, and minimize the likelihood of holiday meltdowns and conflicts. These ideas are anchored in the principle that we all behave better when we feel better! After reading through, choose one or two options that fit your family and focus on them this year.
Anchor the season in perspective.
Christmas is about God’s greatest gift to humans – his son Jesus Christ. This gets all too easily lost in our cultural expression of the holiday. Of all the Christmas preparation, what might not really need to be done? What would it take to build a few extra minutes into each day for rest, prayer, or meditation to delight in the eternal Savior who came to earth to reveal God to us? What’s one simple thing you could do to help your kids enter into this with you? Write your ideas in the comments section to inspire and connect with others!
Give proactive attention.
In the stress of the season our children need more of our attention. They often get less… until they misbehave. (Which teaches them a really effective way to get attention.) During a holiday gathering, look for opportunities to affirm any positive behavior, sharing, respect, or helpfulness. Make a priority of setting aside a few minutes or more for relaxed, quality connection and affection each day, and on the front end of your gatherings. This can fill the “love bucket” of both parent and child.
Protect rest and routine.
Tired people typically don’t handle stress and high-energy activities well. Exhausted children don’t transition well. Be sure kids are getting adequate sleep. Some studies suggest the majority of misbehavior is driven by sleep deprivation. The better everyone can stay at least close to normal routines, the less stressed they will be. This may even mean letting go of meeting the expectations of well-meaning relatives. Try to keep meals and snacks close to regular schedule. When changes in routine are unavoidable, talk to the children and let them know what’s going to happen. And do your best to be a rested parent.
Be a blessing.
“It is better to give than to receive.” Certainly both giving and receiving are aspects of Christmas. Consider what could be done to orient your children more toward giving than receiving. Involve children in gift preparation. Utilize or develop their talents to help with homemade pictures or crafts, simple meal prep, or assist in the care of younger relatives. Think outside the box. Could your child decorate packages or make special placemats, arrange a centerpiece from a few ornaments from the tree, deliver a muffin and juice breakfast-in-bed to a visiting relative, or greet relatives and put coats on a bed? Then talk with your children about how good it feels to be a blessing to others.
Mix the generations.
A basement full of charged up, unsupervised children is a recipe for conflict. Try taking turns with several adults at a time to facilitate children’s activities and play. The intergenerational fun is valuable for far more than just keeping the peace. Some kids do best if their activities involve some intense muscle effort without wild roughhousing, such as a brisk walk or sledding. You could make a “Rushing River” (don’t step on the floor) obstacle course out of steps stools, chairs, washcloths/paper plates as stepping stones, a board as a bridge, etc. On a quieter note you could do a tactile craft like play-doh or pipe cleaner art, prepare a simple skit about the Christmas story to perform for the rest of the adults, or each child could draw a picture of a different part of the Christmas story to make a timeline.
Manage kids’ stimulation.
If kids’ activities get chaotic or noisy, a quiet storybook, snuggle time, or a helpful task alone with an adult can give a particularly sensitive or intense child a needed break in the action. Older children can be taught to monitor when they need a break – “Let me know if it gets noisy and your body feels stressed. We can do something to help your body feel better so you can have a great time here.” Try to provide these breaks often enough to avert a meltdown rather than react to one.
Don’t be shocked; your children will not behave perfectly this holiday season. Neither will you or I! You probably have some relatives who won’t behave perfectly either. 😉 The reason for the season is the one who invaded our mess to bring the Good News of his grace. What better example of the Spirit of Christmas than to give mercy and encouragement to a struggling family member. So when it falls apart this Christmas, take a deep breath, smile and repeat to yourself, “Yup, this is how it goes sometimes. I’m so glad Jesus came to love us at our worst.”
We wish you a Christmas in which you know the presence of Jesus in a deeper way!
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