With Christmas just a few sleepless sleeps away it’s the time when overwhelm, family visits and responsibility can turn into weighty final straws. Children meanwhile are assaulted with threats and promises for being ‘naughty or nice’, often while navigating unfamiliar surroundings.
In the midst of these potential stresses what does your child really want?
For you to nurture your family traditions
Children love traditions and celebrations when they can be active participants in the preparation of meaningful moments – reliably constant pegs upon which they can hang their memories. It is the joining together, a shared purpose or intention and something magical which transcends the day-to-day, which fills children with a feeling they love to live time and again.
Creating new traditions and celebrations can also preserve and cultivate family heritage and identity – they can also include valuable grandparental involvement. Find thoughtful, conscious ways to mark the season for your own children – it could be as simple as burning an advent candle, hiding a penny in the Christmas pudding or playing O Holy Night in a candlelit room on Christmas Eve. These comforting enchanting touches slow us down in the hurried rush of Christmas and create memories to cherish and to pass down.
For you to be a healthy role model
Over-eating, over-drinking and a lack of exercise often go hand-in-hand with Christmas festivities. How you behave is the most powerful and influential teaching tool you have – children learn by imitation so making healthy choices, getting enough fresh air and being able to resist another mince pie won’t go unobserved. In other words, if you’d chastise your child for over-indulging or eating too close to bedtime don’t make it acceptable or normalise it for yourself.
Modelling self-regulation isn’t always easy when there’s a vast array of tempting edibles so take practical steps to make it easier on your child and yourself and don’t be afraid to say no if it’s in the child’s best interest (if there’s a tantrum in response then trust it’s their way of downloading tension at an intense time). It can also be an anxious time for ‘fussy eaters’ who might come under scrutiny or surveillance by extended family – maintaining a relaxed environment for healthy eating will be essential.
For you to know your values
It’s so easy to feel sucked into the consumer machine which inspires us to buy more and feel increasingly guilty for not giving enough. We are conditioned to take on the values of marketeers and to lose sight of the fact that we have the power to choose and live our own values. Expressing our personal or family values amidst the normalisation of things like the chocolate advent calendar (an advent string is a beautifully thoughtful alternative) is how we teach children what’s worth caring for. Do we want to give the message that Christmas is about more stuff, more overwhelm, more stress?
The real magic of course is in feeling the peacefulness that arises with conscious choice. Choosing not to buy into what we’re told our children want can look messy because our children aren’t immune to these messages. But staying true to your values and your choices and knowing why they are important to you, will stand the test of time with greater longevity. It’s harder work modelling your own personal authority and correctness but it’s a gift in itself to show it’s not only possible but potentially very satisfying.
For you to take care of your mood
In the stressful rushing about and frantic preparations it’s often harder to find those quiet moments of reflection, clarity and connection with our precious ones. It can look like our children are irritating or our relatives annoying. Remembering that our experience always comes from our thinking can bring relief to those moments when it all feels too much – such a relief to know we don’t need to believe all our thoughts about Auntie Edna or Grandpa David – that thoughts aren’t truths and that we are all having our own unique and personal experience of each and every situation.
Children want, above all, to experience our caring and lightheartedness. It is in this spirit that they can rest in our love. When children feel good they behave well, and the dynamic can evolve with a warmth and enjoyment from which lasting memories are made by the brain with it’s wonderful appetite for nostalgia. Notice your ever changing mood and don’t be afraid of the low feelings or feed the imagination with unhelpful thinking.
Remembering that you are experiencing your thinking about your child, and not your child itself, can create just enough space to come back to the encouraging good humour which creates a truly blessed Christmas season.