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Help your child navigate Christmas

Big Feelings at Christmas

The festive period can be full on. So many expectations, emotions and things to think about. For many, it might bring a welcome return to seeing friends and family, celebrating with loved ones and possible indulgence in many different forms. How can we help our children to navigate the big emotions and big feelings this time of year brings?

girl with present

Receiving Gifts

Ever held your breath whilst your child opens a present, with all eyes watching their reaction… willing them to display appropriate amounts of gratitude and thanks? The very public giving and receiving of gifts at this time of year can bring pressured situations where your child’s response might feel challenging. When our child doesn’t readily say thank you or seem grateful, it can feel disappointing and even embarrassing; yet if we see it for what it is, this is often our child responding with honesty and innocence… particularly if the present was not what they had hoped for or is misjudged age wise.

Gratitude is a feeling not a behaviour and it’s cultivated through modelling rather than forced ‘thank yous’. Let go of your own fear of how they will respond and be ready to step in and use the opportunity to model gratitude for the act of giving rather than just the present itself: ‘Wow , I think Grandma must have put a lot of thought into choosing that for you, I think you’re grateful for her kindness, even if it might not be what you were expecting!”.

Having a conversation with your child in preparation before any form of gift giving & receiving can also help. Discuss how it feels like a surprise to open something in front of other people, the possibility that the gift might be something different to what we’d choose and most importantly, how special it is that someone has thought about us.

In those pressured moments when your child’s response doesn’t meet the expectation of the room, be ready with phrases such as: “I know you’re grateful for this special gift but this feels like a tricky moment right now… I’ll say thank you for you and I know you’ll find another moment later to thank Grandma”.

Greetings & Affection

Christmas often brings with it family, friends and gatherings, and with this the expectation for your child to greet people with affection. A hug or kiss under duress might not seem a big deal but it’s important to find a balance between respecting your child’s boundaries and modelling an appropriate response to the social situation. If your child seems reluctant to hug or kiss their relative, you can easily step in to save any awkwardness and offer some alternative suggestions, a high five? A secret handshake? A smile? Or even a simple ‘You’ll let us know when you feel ready to say hello’. Often, simply changing your language from a presumptuous ‘Come and give your auntie a kiss goodbye’ to a much more open ended ‘Come and say goodbye’ leaves the choice open for your child.

Difficult Questions

This time of year can be magical. The absolute excitement and awe & wonder amongst the young (and old!) is very special. If your child is not so little anymore this might be the year they start to ask some difficult questions about the magic of Christmas, which can result in some big feelings. Firstly, there’s no right or wrong time or age to be having these conversations; you’ll know when the time is right for your child and it’s likely to be led by them. Be prepared to be caught unaware, when they outright ask you what is really going on at Christmas. This can feel like a watershed moment; many of us adults can remember the moment we found out the truth. It can be helpful to be prepared for this moment with some of the prompts below:

  • I’m interested to know what you think the answer might be?
  • Are you sure you want to know the answer to that question now, or shall we talk about this after Christmas?
  • If I tell you the answer, you’ll be part of an important secret, are you ready for that?

It’s also helpful to speak with family and friends who are visiting to make sure everyone is aware of who knows what and can toe the party line.

Looking for something fun to keep your little ones occupied over the Christmas holidays? We have plenty of sessions and courses running through the break.

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