Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without some stress beleaguering us amongst all the glittery jolliness. You know, a spot of near-fisticuffs over the last tub of brandy butter in Sainsbury’s or that Rachel from F.R.I.E.N.D.S moment whereby you have to feign delight with a present that will inevitably find its way into the charity shop sack (if no gift receipt is enclosed, darn it).
But the thing is, while we’re seasoned veterans with the whole festive madness thing – our kids aren’t. Days that go wildly off routine, over-eager stubbly kiss-givers and funky foods are ripe territory for babies and children to feel bewildered. Naturally, this can spiral into tears and tantrums. And as parents, it can make us feel if not cancel-the-whole-shebang Grinch-ishness when faced with such scenarios and reactions, then at least reaching for the nearest cup of mulled stuff…Which made me wonder: there has to be a better way for everyone to stay merry and not mirthless, right?
Below, I hope to have found some answers: following a quick survey of fellow parents (usually with multiple Christmases under their belts compared to my feeble two) and some child psychology-lite, these are the techniques to if not mitigate, then at least manage meltdowns I’ve been let it on – many of which are easier to adopt than you might think. Merry Christmas!
In a nutshell, just try to remember HALT – Hungry, Alone, Lost, Tired.
H is for Hungry: By which I mean while not strictly famished – but what with oddly timed meals and laboured-over feasts of unfamiliar things, festive food can be a recipe for discontented little tummies. Get around any ‘hangry’ episodes by keeping a stash of healthy snacks to hand to tide you over yet not spoil their appetites – anything from dried fruit to sticks of cheese should do the trick. When it comes to the main event, and whether you’ve cooked the food yourselves or are guests elsewhere, try serving picky toddlers’ meals on a canteen-style plate with the subdivided sections so they can clearly see what’s there (hold the gravy unless they love it) and make a choice about which bits they want to eat – kids love to have a say in what they’re eating. It helps to ensure there are at least one or two elements they recognise, too, such as roast potatoes or carrots so you know they won’t outright reject it.
A is for Alone: It can be overwhelming for children to be faced with lots of folk they don’t know very well at festive gatherings. Let alone expected to be on their best behaviour while being fawned over, or demands being made to show (to them) total strangers affection. Prime them before you arrive with who they might meet, showing them photos if possible, and try to pay them individual attention still so that they don’t feel cast adrift.
L is for Lost: Christmas jaunts invariably mean visiting different places and tackling strange environments (the sort that you can’t jump around on the furnishings with your shoes on, for instance) that can be utterly baffling to little ones. Bring a beloved toy as a crutch, and if you’re staying overnight, bring their usual bedtime paraphernalia including their own duvet and pillow so that they don’t feel totally at sea. If you can, try to be your relaxed, regular self: children are very astute and will quickly pick up upon and mimic any unease you exhibit. All the more reason to accept that eggnog!
T is for Tired: Yes, regular routines may go out of the window, but if you can stick to bedtimes at least you can probably expect milder wobbles of grouchy, sensitive tiredness all-round. Try staggering presents too, so that children – especially younger ones – don’t become over-stimulated or so stirred up they tucker themselves out. That said, getting outside or going for a walk in the fresh air is always a good idea, so even if the weather’s nippy, just wrap them up in toasty layers and unleash them in the garden for a short burst of letting off steam.
Most importantly, let go of perfection. Don’t be hard on yourself or your kids if sometimes things go a bit haywire – just remember Dr.Seuss’ words “be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”.