Welcome to the ultimate breakdown and tantrum cause of the season: Christmas!

No, we are not the Grinch; just realistic.

Christmas is stressful, Christmas is loud and full of people, and Christmas is full of expectations – for us and the little ones.

Just like you prepare children for Halloween by telling them what will happen and how to behave and the magic words to say, Christmas is something worth preparing for to make it easier on everyone.

You are going to laugh, thinking that all we do from Halloween onwards is talk about Christmas, but the solution is talking it through, and we mean talking about the meaning of Christmas (for you and your family). This means, breaking it down: You can talk about traditions, what is important to you, some of the activities and maybe come up with ideas together.

The goals are simple: The most important one is conveying the meaning of Christmas (for your family) and the importance of being together and spending time together, taking the focus away from presents, which are often the cause of tantrums because something isn’t right or simply because of the overload of toys (and therefore information). The more you can dial it down with your child(ren) and the family, the calmer the actual day and run up will be. Of course, there will be presents, but the focus is on the experience together. For example, if your child mentions a toy they would like, talk about how fun it would be to set it up together on Christmas Day, or who might like to play with them, therefore reinforcing the community aspect.

Talking about it also means you can discuss together which activities you would enjoy or not; explain what each activity entails and discuss how you feel about them. Quite a few young children who grew up during Covid still struggle with crowds or walking up to strangers, so a simple visit to a Winter Wonderland may be more hassle than you would expect. Find out exactly what worries them and tailor the activities to fit your family’s needs. There may also be something they have heard about and want to do that you hadn’t thought of. Together, you can manage the expectations you adults and the children have of the Christmas season.

Lastly, this is a good time to work on some social skills to avoid conflicts in the moment. Some of the things you may want to think about, depending on the ages of your children, are how to behave in a group with adults, to greet people, sharing with other children, for example. You can even simulate some situations. Start by finding books to read together, then role play situations to help children understand the social construct. This can involve dealing with distant relatives, but also go as far as reacting to people you aren’t comfortable with (remember it’s ok to teach your children to say “no” to a hug or kiss from someone foreign to them).

If you are a bilingual family or speak a different language at home, practice key phrases your child may need (remember when you went out trick-or-treating unprepared and suddenly had to explain the whole concept on the go to your confused toddler? Yeh, let’s avoid that).

And if your child has any special needs, or will be scared of certain situations (it can be as simple as being scared of candles on the tree, or loud music), you can prepare for them, practice them, or discuss ways to avoid them.

What you want to get out of this preparation is making sure everyone is on the same page about Christmas: the focus is on community and time spent together (as well as your own personal family values and traditions), rather than the crazy merchandise-fuelled idea of Christmas. Together, we discuss what we would like to do and also what we don’t like or what makes us uncomfortable about the Christmas season and we look for solutions. We make sure we are as well-prepared socially and mentally as we can for what is a truly manic time of the year. As a family, we make a comprehensive plan so activities are clear and everyone can enjoy Christmas and see what fun activities are ahead.

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