Let’s face it, Christmas can be pretty overwhelming for grown-ups and we’ve had years of experience. Children haven’t and their young minds can struggle to process the endless parade of festivities, as fun as they are. No wonder then they can get so silly during the silly season.
Our resident expert in toddlers, Benevolent Society Childcare Manager Denielle Jans shares her advice with Kinderling Conversation for a calmer, less chaotic Christmas. Here’s the tips we found invaluable:
1. Understand Christmas from your child’s point of view
As Denielle points out, the build-up to Christmas for kids is both long and immense, especially given Christmas fever starts in the shops from late October these days. “You have to remember just going to the shops, there’s music, there’s Christmas lights flashing, there’s loads more people around. So there’s a ramp-up of energy that can be exhausting for children in itself (because) all their senses are firing all the time.”
2. Communicate openly about what’s happening
When it comes to celebrations, Denielle advises clueing your kids up in advance (if they’re old enough, like three and up). “Just give them a heads up, like ‘Christmas is going to be a really busy day and we’ve got lots of people we’re visiting’. Explain who they are, and that those people will have some special things for them because they love them. That gives them context and they can then predict what’s going to happen.”
As for presents, she adds: “If there’s going to be other children, put that into the mix too – use their names and say who they are and what their connection is to them too – and explain they’ might probably get presents too, which are different to yours. And that you might love what they get, but it’s important to remember it’s their present.
3. It’s asking a lot to expect toddlers to share presents
We all know the Christmas spirit is all about sharing, but us adults have had plenty of time to get used to the idea. Young children, who’ve been primed on talk of presents and Santa for weeks, aren’t going to be as rational and it’s unfair to expect them to be.
Says Denielle: “Children become really passionate about things. Adults do too. If you had just been given a new car and your friend, who probably doesn’t have a licence, says ‘let me take it for a spin!’ you’re probably not going to want to share. So for a child who’s just starting to explore what their emotions feel like, it’s (a big ask). It’s such an early learning stage so it’s all about support.”
4. Check in with them throughout the day
When the big day arrives, it’s vital to keep an eye on your little Christmas elf and how they’re faring. According to Denielle, talking openly about what you both might be feeling can really help. “Ask ‘hey, how you going? It’s been a busy morning!’ Call it for what it is, or “Gosh, we were up early this morning!” or “I’m feeling a little bit floppy right now, do you wanna come sit on the couch with me for a bit?”
5. Build in breaks where possible
After Christmas lunch, it’s almost custom to collapse on the couch or in front of the TV, but it’s remember much harder for children to come down from the huge high of wrapping-ripping and a tree-full of new toys. Ensure you spend time with them one-on-one to release some of the pressure.
“Children might need someone to help them come down,” says Denielle. “Say ‘You seem a bit quiet – did you want to have a little snuggle or read a book together?’ and you’ll see how they’re tracking. Then they can reassess and reset to start again for the afternoon or the next session.”