8 ways to be a more mindful parent this Christmas
With just over 4 weeks until Christmas is upon us, you may already be feeling the chaos descending! There are to-do lists and shopping lists and gifts to wrap and people to visit and end of year parties and concerts to attend. It can feel overwhelming. For us big elves, and for our little elves too.
And what happens when we feel overwhelmed? There are meltdowns. Whining. Arguments. Yelling. Not enough sleep. Too much anxiety. And very little joy. And that’s just the adults!
Let’s face it. Christmas induced stress can make it hard to parent mindfully. But it’s not impossible. Here are eight things you can do to reduce some of those parenting struggles, manage your stress and have a calmer Christmas this year.
8 ways to practice mindful parenting this Christmas
1. Have realistic expectations
Christmas is a time when expectations can be high. After all, we want it to be a happy, magical time for our kids. But often, in our quest for a “perfect” Christmas, we put too much pressure on ourselves, and on our children. We expect our kids to be on their best behaviour at a time when emotions are running high, there is extra sensory stimulation all around them, and regular routines have mostly gone out the window.
And, we often ask things of them that we normally wouldn’t, too, like: “What do you mean you don’t want to sit next to that fat man in red with the big bushy beard who you’ve never seen before?”
It’s all in the name of Christmas fun, right?! But try to remember that your kids are still just kids, no matter the time of year. They will make mistakes at Christmas time. And so will you.
2. Be aware of triggers
As I mentioned above, there is lots of extra sensory input for kids to process at this time of year. Lots of people, bright lights, extra noise and things to look at, smell and even taste. It can be a really overwhelming time for children, especially our more sensitive little souls.
Try to be aware of things that may trigger your child and cause them stress or overwhelm. Is it crowds? Itchy clothing? Lots of noise? Do they struggle to regulate themselves when they are hungry or tired? Do they get anxious around people they don’t know well? Do your best to either avoid or plan for situations you know your child will struggle in. Bring snacks, let them wear the comfy clothing, tell them what’s happening next and who will be there. This will help them feel more prepared and in control, so you can all have a more enjoyable experience.
3. Make time for connection
During the hustle and bustle of the holidays, making time for connection can sometimes become difficult or get totally forgotten. There’s so much to do. People to visit, parties to go to, shopping to get done, concerts to attend…the list is long! And sometimes, we can spend an entire day with our loved ones, without really feeling connected to them. Try to set aside some time each day to just “be” with your kids. Even 10 minutes of special time during the day will help them feel more connected to you and provide them with some valuable and much needed down time. Get down on the floor and play, read some books together, or even just have a quiet chat at bedtime. Fill up your child’s cup!
4. Resist the urge to call in Santa
“Keep going and I’ll have to call Santa and tell him you’ve been naughty!” “Santa only comes to good boys and girls who listen to their parents/clean their rooms/pack away their toys”. Has something like that ever slipped out of your mouth in a moment of frustration or desperation?!
It’s tempting to play the Santa card when our kids are not cooperating with us the way we’d like them to. It’s an easy fix. A quick fix that works right there in the moment. But the good/bad dichotomy can be stressful for kids and damaging to their self esteem. A child who is frequently told they are bad or naughty will eventually believe it, and behave in kind. It also reinforces the idea that we behave well only because we’re going to get something in return, rather than because it’s the right thing to do. Not ideal.
So instead of threats, focus on connection and encouragement and play. These are much more helpful, respectful ways to increase cooperation and motivation. And as a bonus, they work all year round, not just at Christmas time.
5. Don’t force kids to be physically affectionate
There are lots of social events at Christmas time. Extra friends and relatives to meet and greet. Some that our kids may not know very well or see very often. So of course, they may not want to be physically affectionate with them. Or with anyone for that matter.
Forcing kids to be physically affectionate with others is not only disrespectful, it sends a dangerous message about consent and personal boundaries. Our children don’t owe anyone a hug or a kiss in return for receiving a gift. No matter who they are.
By all means, encourage your child to use their manners and discuss what a polite and appropriate greeting might look like. But respect your child’s right to say no, to express discomfort, and to approach social situations at their own pace. Some kids take longer to warm up than others, and that’s fine. After all, some of us grown ups do too!
6. Maintain your child’s regular routine wherever possible
Kids, especially sensitive kids, thrive on routine. It helps them feel safe and secure and means they know what to expect in a situation and how to prepare for it. But unfortunately, structure and routine is often the first thing to go during the holidays. And this can cause lots of stress and upset for our kids!
If it’s possible, try to maintain a consistent routine for your child. Yes, there will be special occasions, and late nights, and new situations and activities, and exciting things to see and do. But if you try to keep things predictable and consistent in the in between times, this will help your child re-set and recharge. And that means they’ll have more resources available to deal wth the not so predictable times when they come along.
7. Use mantras to manage stress
We’ve spoken about managing your child’s triggers, but it’s important that you’re aware of, and able to manage your own stress too! Christmas can be a difficult time for many people, for a variety of reasons. It’s important that you have strategies in place to help you feel calm and manage any unhelpful thinking or difficult emotions that arise during the Christmas period. After all, if you’re not feeling calm, you won’t be able to help your child feel calm either.
Mantras are a simple and effective way to manage stress. They remind us to respond, rather than react in difficult moments. If you have a favourite parenting mantra that you use already, perhaps you can write it down and stick it up somewhere in your house! And if you need some mantra inspiration, you’ll find 24 different mindful parenting mantras in my Calm Mama Mantra Cards here.
8. Let it go
Sometimes you just need to let go. Of unrealistic expectations. Of unhelpful thinking. Of your ideas about how Christmas “should” look. Of traditions that no longer bring you joy. Of relationships that are harmful to your health. Of activities that lack meaning. Of beliefs that no longer serve you or your family.
An important tenet of mindfulness and mindful parenting is the idea of acceptance. Acceptance of all that is happening within and around you. Acceptance of yourself, as a perfectly imperfect human. And acceptance of your child, just as they are, right here and now. When we are able to accept the way things are, and let go of our beliefs about how we think they should be? Then all that is left is the present. And then we can truly experience the joy of Christmas!
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.