The end of the year is almost here, and we’re bracing ourselves for loads of sugar, major overtiredness and bucket loads of excitement that ‘SANTA IS COMING!’ – that’s right, it’s almost the Christmas school holidays.
There are few times more fraught with tension than the Christmas school holidays. They begin with a bang with end of school parties, keep the tension high through the Silly Season itself, then end up fizzling out right when the monster ‘Back to School’ time begins.
We don’t mean to sound cynical – we love Christmas as much as the next person. We just wish there was a way to combat our children’s pre-Christmas crazies so that we can juggle everything from stocking stuffers to mid-week childcare (because the working year never ends when the school year does).
Looking for an easier way, we reached out to counselling psychotherapist and parenting and relationship expert Dr Karen Phillip.
“When it comes to the end of the school year, kids are ready for a long break,” Karen explains. “They are excited to finish their year, and enthusiastically awaiting the new class year ahead. They’ve got end of season sports and school events, plus a number of social celebrations leading up to Christmas. Not to mention, of course, the excitement that Santa and Christmas Day brings.
“When a child ‘acts out’ during this time, it is often due to the menagerie of emotions, tiredness and excitement. It isn’t because they are misbehaving – they are simply over-excited.”
So how can we, as parents, prepare for and manage this pre-Christmas craziness (without going crazy ourselves)? Karen offers a few suggestions:
- Set out a timetable of all upcoming activities so all family members can see and understand what is looming
- Take some time out with the kids to enjoy physical activities together; this could include a couple of hours at the beach, in a park climbing or kicking a ball, at the trampoline center, riding bikes…. Getting outside together isn’t just a fun bonding experience – it also burns considerable emotional and physical energy.
- Have mealtime together as a whole family, every single day, so that you can talk about what is coming up and plan the details. You can also discuss how everyone is feeling, and what each person needs.
- Arrange quiet activities with the kids such as making decorations, wrapping gifts, singing Christmas songs and decorating the tree.
- Spend time reflecting on the year – photographs are a good tool to do this. Talk about what you each achieved in that year, the good, the regrettable, and what could have been better, and think about how to improve next year.
If your family typically struggles during those few weeks between school and work breaking up for the holidays, make sure you map out a plan to minimise stress and confusion.
“A family discussion is needed so all members understand the approaching events,” Karen says. “Call on school friend parents, vacation care activities or extended family to help out, and remind your children that – while things will be very busy, and you all may feel a little tired or overwhelmed – the weeks ahead will also be really exciting.”
Let them know what is looming, and find out what you want or need from them instead of what we want to avoid.
“For example, rather than telling your child not to be rowdy at Nanas or to not argue with the neighbours kids at the bbq, let them know what you prefer them to do and how to do it,” Karen explains. “Try ‘Can you please speak quietly and play outside?’ or ‘If the neighbours are annoying you, just quietly walk away, come and find us or play elsewhere’.”
When in doubt, most of us default to the ‘Be good, or Santa won’t bring you anything for Christmas’ tool during the holidays. But is that the most effective way to encourage good behaviour?
“Rather than telling them Santa won’t bring presents, just let them know Santa may be disappointed – children hate significant grown-ups being disappointed in them,” Karen says. “Tell the child your expectations while being aware they are children. Kids brains are barely developed and do not have the capacity to understand the consequences for their behaviour until their older teenage years.”
If your child still is being particularly stubborn, consider the following:
- Do they understand what you expect?
- Have you helped them know how to achieve your expectation?
- Have you let them know how excited and proud you will be when they achieve your requested good behaviour, even if it isn’t perfect?
- Are you setting realistic, age-dependant goals for them?
“Christmas comes every year,” says Karen. “Learn from any issues presented last year and change what is needed to improve your season. Remember, kids are not developed adults and get extremely overwhelmed and tired – their behaviour may be excessive, but it doesn’t mean they’re just ‘being bad’.”