There are an increasing number of big ‘C’ words in our lives today that can cause huge stress-and ‘Christmas’, if we allow it, can be right up there with the best of them!
In the weeks and months leading up to it, we leave the safe shores of wanting it to be as enjoyable as possible as we slip further and further into the fantasy of it being perfect.
Unfortunately this creates an unrealistic illusion and we leave ourselves destined to be disappointed.
When you have children, of any ages (including adult children), we want everyone to get on, have a great time, be appreciate of how fortunate we all are, be kind and courteous to all family members (no matter how annoying they may be!). In our constructed ideology, there is no room for conflict or emotions such as sadness or anger.
Then the reality falls fall from our perfect picture and we feel let down, exhausted and ready for a holiday as soon as it all ends.
As psychotherapists and hypnotherapists in our 26th year in practice, we expect the familiar pattern of referrals about difficult family relationships to once again show a sharp increase in January. Coupled with the personal shame and guilt often accompanying overindulgence-we seek to blame others for ruining the fantasy, or even internalise it to blame ourselves..a perfect storm for it not being the “new year, new start” we all hope for.
So I want to share with you 10 tips and tricks you can do to help manage the emotional health of our children around the excitement of Christmas, and help us to do the same and this year come out smiling!
- It doesn’t have to be perfect, managing your expectations by aiming for ‘good enough’. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling that everything is within your control, when it is not. Start with drawing two circles on a piece of paper (one inside the other) and write in the inner circle all the things that are within your control this Christmas, and in the outer circle all of the things that aren’t.
- To further help us adults manage expectations, if you find yourself thinking or saying the words “I should….”, change them instead to “I could…” to lessen the pressure you were about to impose on yourself by changing it from a self-imposed obligation to a choice. Your children will no doubt benefit from a more relaxed mum.
- We build up our physical resistance and immune systems by having colds and flus. Emotional resilience is also built on challenges we face-even as children. Give them space to feel negative emotions like anger, frustration, disappointment, failure, rejection. It will aid them to grow into emotionally healthy adults, not just physically.
- Our ability to learn from others and to develop psychologically and emotionally is what makes us human. So one of the ways you can do this positively is to talk about the emotions you feel, and how it is ok to feel them. However how, when and to whom we express them needs to be regulated. So when great auntie Joan gives them something they don’t want or already have, it is okay to feel disappointed. However if they are old enough to be polite in front of Auntie Joan and then talk to you later about how they felt, then you can show them the way to do this. If they are a young child though, don’t expect them to hold this in! If Auntie Joan doesn’t understand, then let that be her problem, not yours! Others’ behaviours are not your responsibility!
- There are certain things in your children’s (and extended family members’) behaviours that are predictable, but not in a good way. Play a game of ‘mental bingo’ in your mind. Create your bingo card where the ‘bingo squares’ correspond to the predictable behaviours which would usually stress you out. Nobody need know what you are doing, unless you choose to secretly collude with a partner or sibling who helps with populating the bingo card. However heed the warning that knowing looks can be spotted!!!
- If a young child is finding it hard to contain intense emotions (such as the frustrations of it talking two hours to get the large plastic dinosaur out of the box!), see then like a fire that needs to be extinguished. Hold them close until the fire is extinguished. We are helping them to learn to regulate their own emotions for later in life so as they don’t go into melting road rage when someone pulls out in front of their first Ferrari!
- Remain vigilant about your child’s trigger warnings. Think of them like an elastic band. if you are witnessing high expressed emotions, recognise that the elastic band is stretched and its limit may not be far away. Avoid the temptation to push your luck by keeping them up late to watch that family movie. By the way, this applies to you too!
- For older children, and again for ourselves, practice ‘mindful social media’. Before you reach for your phone, think about how you feel at that time and based on that, what you are looking for when you access the app. If you are not likely to get what you need-proceed with caution. So if you are feeling lonely, reading about other peoples’ socialising is not going to help!
- Normalise emotions. Don’t over share, but allow us into our emotional world. They learn they don’t have to hide emotions from us, or that they are flawed human beings for having feelings.
- If you have a child who finds it difficult to cope with excitement, build an ‘age-appropriate’ CALM DOWN KIT than contains items/books/toys/music tracks/suggestions on picture cards/photos that can help bring the emotions back to a stable baseline. Don’t forgot to give them permission to use it in all circumstances where you have made a prior agreement that it is appropriate.