Christmas can be an exciting time for celebration and a chance for families to come together for meaningful moments, have fun and make lasting memories. But the realities can be very different from images we see on social media, tv and in films.
The close knit environment intensifies family dynamics, and there can be enormous pressure on parents when it comes to presents, cooking and hosting the ‘perfect Christmas’.
We asked three team members from ‘Open for Parents’ to give us their top tips on dealing with a range of common problems faced by parents at Christmas.
What do I do if my teen would rather stay in bed than joining in with family activities?
Sarah Murray, Team Leader: This is a struggle that parents have all over the world. Your teen may be less excited than they were as a young child, and may want to spend a little more time alone or speaking to friends.
Lisa Gentry, Parenting Practitioner: Talk to your teen about how you would like to spend with them, make an agreement about them coming down for a short period of time and then returning to their room. Put boundaries in place incase the teen doesn’t stick to their side of the agreement and praise them for joining in.
Sam Mills, Team Leader: While the average Brit gets up at about 7.45am on Christmas Day, almost half of teens won’t consider appearing before 9am, But that needn’t be an issue. Accept that teens sleep in for longer, and don’t get stressed about it. Avoid arguments by agreeing in advance the time you want everyone gathered by – and provide a tempting breakfast!
I’m worried that I haven’t got enough money for my kids to have the perfect Christmas.
Sarah Murray: Children won’t remember the gifts they received in years to come, but will remember family time and lovely things you did together. Try to take care of yourself and remember that you aren’t a superhero, you are only trying your best. A night on the sofa in front of a family film, or going for a walk in the woods can be a lovely memory for your children and doesn’t have to cost anything.
Lisa Gentry: Set a realistic budget, give children ideas for gifts that are affordable and within budget. Look at ideas for making gifts, cards and decorations. Focus on family time and games and get the children involved in activities that they want to do.
Sam Mills: As Christmas draws nearer, a lot of parents start to panic shop, fearing they don’t have enough or can’t afford to give their kids enough. But deep down, we all know that the specialness of Christmas and the holidays is all about connection with family and friends, and slowing life down to enjoy each other’s company.
- Take an evening stroll around nearby streets to look at Christmas lights
- Go to see a Christmas movie or attend a Christmas Carols event together
- Sit down with your kids and write Christmas cards & emails for special friends and relatives
I can’t get my kids away from screens over the holiday period.
Sarah Murray: This can be a real challenge for families. Christmas often means lots more movies and staying snuggled on the sofa. Relaxed bedtimes and schedules make it more difficult to put in screen time limits. Consider making screen time more of a family activity over the festive period – watching movies together and playing games together.
Sam Mills: Sometimes it seems like kids spend all their time in front of the TV or on a smartphone or on the computer. You might even feel like banning technology from your house. That’s your choice. But for most parents, the reality is we need to adapt. So how can you strike the right balance in your house? Discuss this as a family so that your kids can have a say too.
Parents will also be pleased to know the brief but frequent interactions most people have with their children over the Christmas break are generally better for child development, than spending lots of time with our kids but not really interacting with them.
Lisa Gentry: Call a family meeting, explain why you feel that screens are a problem, set limits with rewards that give screen time back in small periods, set visual timers and give clear instructions with consequences when not carried out.
My family always ends up fighting in front of the kids when we get together over Christmas
Sam Mills: While Christmas can be an exciting time, it can also be a big cause of stress for many. Christmas is indeed a prime time of year for family arguments – whether it be because of clashes in personalities or values, sibling favouritism or simply not agreeing on what to do. Rather than forcing yourself to spend extended time with the members of your family who you find most difficult, see if you can break your time up to alleviate the pressure that you all have to be together all of the time. There are lots of clever ways of creating ways to take some time out. Things like being the one who walks the dog or who finds a late-night garage to buy some milk. It’s important just get a break from the pressure from each other.
Sarah Murray: This can be stressful and put a big dampener on festive fun. It might be worth considering speaking to your family members before the big day and asking everyone to be mindful around the children. Have a plan for what you will do if people start fighting, and remember that you are well within your rights to leave early and to choose who you want to spend your Christmas day with.
Lisa Gentry: Speak to family members before Christmas about your concerns, find out what triggers are causing the fighting and try to reduce the chance of conflict. Explain to your family that if the fighting starts the children will be taken home or the family involved will be asked to leave.
This is the first year my kids are spending Christmas with my ex and I’m finding it hard to cope. What advice would you give?
Sarah Murray: This is really difficult to go through and it’s important that you take care of yourself. Children don’t get as caught up on the physical date of Christmas, as adults do. Arrange your own Christmas day with the kids for when they are next with you.
Lisa Gentry: Focus on the days you have your children and have your own Christmas Day together with new traditions of your own. Negotiate with your ex and see if contact with children on day (facetime, phone) is acceptable.
Sam Mills: If you will not get the chance to see your children on Christmas Day, and will be alone, see if you can make arrangements with your friends. If anyone close to you is in the same situation, why not organise to see them; volunteer or invite them round for lunch so that you will not be by yourself. Whether you’ll be seeing the kids solo or with your ex, it’s crucial that you put them first. You don’t want the kids’ memory of Christmas to be you and your ex nipping at one another.
What’s the best way to control siblings who can’t stop rowing and fighting?
Sarah Murray: Drawing up 3 or 4 simple family rules with the children, worded with behaviour that you want to see (e.g ‘use kind hands’) gives everybody clear standards of how to behave. Decide in advance what the consequence of rowing and fighting will be for your children, clearly explain this to them and make sure you stick to the consequences when the behaviour happens. Remember to reward kind and loving behaviour at every opportunity. Attend the Managing Fighting and Aggression discussion group for more strategies!
Lisa Gentry: Call a family meeting, get the children’s input, set ground rules with rewards and consequences, deal with the problem behaviour straight away, consequences should be directly associated with the problem behaviour. Give the children a chance a show you that they can get along and play nicely. Praise them when you see the behaviour you like.
Sam Mills: Have a few, simple, basic family rules, such as keep your hands and feet to yourself. Children should grow up knowing that hitting is just simply not acceptable: you might be upset, you might be annoyed, but it is not okay to lash out and hurt.
When you’re teaching kids these new skills and behaviours, pay attention. If an older brother or sister provokes a younger one, show them that rather than lashing out and attacking the older sibling, they can do something else – for example, ask the older one to stop teasing, or go somewhere else to play. Reward your child with praise if they try one of these new ways of dealing with conflict.
The ‘Open for Parents’ team offer a variety of free parenting from light touch one off support for those facing common struggles, through to specialist interventions for those families experiencing more entrenched or complex parenting issues. If you or someone you know would like to know more about how to access free support please visit their website here.
Merry Christmas from all at The Hastings Opportunity Area