Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Christmas Tantrums - how to avoid the blow-ups!

Yep, it's that time of year again. As parents we may feel ambivalent about it because of the 'parent trap' - what if your precious darlings don't like the gifts you bought them?

Scenario #1 -
It's Christmas morning and you're enjoying a snoozy lie-in when suddenly you hear shrieks and screams and heartbroken cries from the lounge room. Thinking someone must be mortally wounded you leap out of bed, fall over the bedclothes on the floor, rush into the lounge room to find your child huddled in the foetal position on the floor, wrapping paper and discarded presents scattered around the room. What the hell happened? Your child's tear stained, furious face tells it all. They hate what you gave them. They hate you. They wanted something else, probably more expensive than your budget allows. You're the worst parent EVER.

Scenario #2 -  
You're shopping for Christmas presents with your little darling/s and they see something they reeeeeally want. When you explain that they a) don't need it, b) are too young for it, c) you can't afford it, your sweet natured little angel throws an embarrassing tantrum, screaming and chucking stuff out of the trolley while onlookers gasp and film you on their phones.

Scenario #3 -
Your child is a highly anxious little person who worries about what to buy, whether people will like what they choose and whether they will get what their heart desires. Or they may be worrying that there will be tension in the house, people arguing, adults not getting along. It happens in most families. This level of anxiety can be difficult to combat. Christmas can represent a stressful time of year for some people, simply because the expectations of the occasion being 'nothing but happy' are way too high.

Scenario #4 - 
The fighting, OMG! Your gorgeous kidlets are killing each other out of jealousy, because you definitely love one more than the other and always give the other a better, more expensive present because you're SO UNFAIR! You fell like gathering up everything and throwing it in the bin, to hell with the cost and the number of extra hours you had to work to pay for it all.

Scenario #5 -
Your extended family are all gathered around the tree. It's the moment where 'Santa' gives out the presents! Yay! You're expecting shining happy faces, hugs, genuine thank yous, blissful hours of quiet while they enjoy their gifts, with looks of rapture and delight. Er, no. Not quite. Instead you get tears, anger, presents being thrown on the floor and stomped on, confused looks from grandparents, aunts and uncles as you scurry off into the kitchen/garage/toilet to nurse your shattered pride.

Scenario #6
You've given your darling some money with which to buy presents for family members. You anticipate the fun they will have choosing something their relative might like. It'll be fun! The hunt for the right item, figuring out the budget limitations, learning about handling money, appreciating the effort YOU go to every birthday and Christmas because they are now performing the same task. What a lovely life lesson! They will now understand the meaning of giving from the heart, right? WRONG. Your precious little tiger rants and raves, wants to spend the money on himself/herself, waste it on lollies, complaining loudly as you rush the trolley out to the carpark.

What can you do to avoid this embarrassing disaster & stress?
This is not what you imagined when you were pregnant. Yes, of course, TV and films romanticise Christmas to the point of ridiculous: snowflakes and mulled wine round the fire, singing carols, a loving atmosphere...

How can you teach your child the true meaning of Christmas? How do you nurture that selflessness? How can you ensure your child copes with Christmas? Here are my top tips. And it's never too late to start.

To effect change you must take the focus off the presents. Both receiving and giving. Yes, baby Jesus was given very expensive gifts from kings, but that's because he was destined to become a king himself! This does not represent your duty to your own children, much as they act like miniature royalty and have developed an effective sneer of disapproval. Christmas is about the entire season, of GOOD WILL towards others. It's about traditions. (more on that later). So what practical things can you do to teach this?

1. Carols and community
Take your children to the local community carols service. Yep, grab your foldable chairs, a thermos and blanket each, settle on the lawn of the local church or community park and sing along, waving your candles gently, feeling part of the community. Hear local leaders talk about what the community has achieved this year, whom they've helped, how they've raised money for those less fortunate. Take along a bag of goodies to give out. Walk around with your child and hand them out, along with sincere Christmas wishes. Catch up with friends. On a starlit night its fabulous.

2. Tradition and how it calms your child
In our house the Christmas traditions start on December 1st when we put up the tree and decorate the house. It's lovely to see the ornaments we haven't seen for 11 months, so familiar and comforting for kids to witness that no matter what happens, Christmas is celebrated. It's a time for family, for good fun and good food. We also start planning the menu. Every year I make Julie Goodwin's Last Minute Christmas Pudding from a beautiful recipe that is super easy! The caramel brandy sauce is to die for! You can vary the dried fruit. Whatever you like. We include currants, chopped apricot, glace cherries and blueberries. My mouth is watering already... Depending on the weather, how much work I want to do and our climate (Australia) I choose simple dishes that are wholesome and yummy. Every year we are laying down a solid foundation for our kids. Wonderful memories they will talk about with their own children. So make it count. Make the effort to keep your own family traditions, every year, and involve the kids in it. predictability goes a long way to helping anxious kids cope with the upheaval of having lots of people around the house and lots of noise. Make sure you provide a quiet place and time if it all gets too much or you start to see their behaviour fraying at the edges. Christmas ought to be a positive experience. 

3. Actively support charities, such as the shoebox donation program
The Shoebox Donation program is excellent for children and can be done as a family activity. You are given a special shoebox sized box, from a participating charity (such as Samaritan's Purse program ) in which you place wrapped gifts for a boy or girl of a certain age from a poor family who can't afford any presents at all. It can be a lot of fun shopping for that child, thinking of little things they might find useful, even making a card and perhaps a little toy to be included in the box, as a personal touch. Children need to know that their own life experience is NOT THE SAME for other children. Watch documentaries on war-torn places where children don't even have their own home any more. Put your child into the real picture. Some supermarket chains also have a christmas tree scheme, where you can place a wrapped present under the tree for a less fortunate child. In Northern hemisphere countries donating blankets and warm clothing to charities is always appreciated.

4. Write a list of things your child MAY BE GIVEN for Christmas
Don't make promises you can't keep. By you writing a list, your child can plainly see what is on offer. What is a reasonable expectation. And it's not the latest iphone, ipad etc! Inform your child that if they throw a tantrum, the list will be removed and they will get nothing. Did you read that right? NOTHING. Or their present will be donated to charity. Don't back down on this! Be strong. If you want to break habits of entitlement, you have to be strong. It only takes one time to follow through on your threat and they will never doubt your resolve again. It does not make you a 'bad' parent to deny your child one christmas without presents. It's good parenting to teach your child gratefulness and appreciation. Compared to children in some African countries who spend their day walking on hot sand just to get drinking water or who resort to digging up roots to boil for a meal, going without new toys for one Christmas is nothing.

5.Christmas Gift List for others
Because gifts are inevitable at Christmas, why not focus on what you plan to give to others? Your child can keep a list of what they are going to purchase and/or make. Right click on the image below to save and print.

6. Talk about the real meaning of Christmas and where it came from.
We take for granted that kids will learn this in school, but often there is a gap in their knowledge. The present giving thing was only a tiny part of the Christmas story. It actually involved two miracles - the birth of two boys who would later become very famous, even thousands of years later. Elizabeth had no children and was considered too old to fall pregnant. But her husband Zacharias was told by an angel that she would bear a son, called John. (who later became known as John the Baptist). Three months later her cousin Mary had a visit from an angel who told her she would also bear a son, despite not being married to Joseph yet and still a virgin. (slightly embarrassing situation!) The angel also said the baby's name would be Jesus and that he had an extraordinary future ahead of him. The government of the time was conducting a census, so everyone had to return to their original place of birth to be registered. That's why Mary and Joseph were on the road while she was heavily pregnant. Skip to 30 odd years later and Jesus was killed for teaching people to love each other unconditionally, forgive each other, speak directly to God of their troubles, live a good life and look forward to a new 'kingdom' - Heaven, which the authorities took to mean that he was going to overthrow the government. Despite knowing he was going to be killed, Jesus kept teaching, right up until he was arrested. He even tried to convert Pontius Pilate, the local government official who was condemning him. Jesus was talking about a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly one. And that's why celebrating Jesus' birth is so important. He made an amazing sacrifice for what he believed in. If you have Christians beliefs you'll know that his death was symbolic for all humanity, natural born sinners unworthy of living in Heaven. There are lots of kids books which explain these ideas better than I can!

 7. Crafts and love
Making cards for special people in your child's life adds excitement to the occasion. What will Grandma say when she opens up the card? What expression will Uncle Nev have when he sees it's a one-off, created especially for him? Seeing happiness on the face of someone knowing you put it there is a powerful feeling of joy and belonging. You can't buy that. These experiences underscore positive relationships as well as teaching children to be kind and grateful. It's not how much money you spend, it's how much love and thought goes into the present. This is something only you can teach your child, by your own example. And don't underestimate the soothing power of sitting down with your children to do christmas crafts together. Just having your attention and making something fun together is a beautiful way to connect with your child. You can listen to audio stories while you work. It's a brilliant holiday activity that works every time! I recommend a free website of stories, storynory

 In my book, 12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety I provide lots more practical ways to help your anxious child cope during times of stress and high expectation. Buy Here

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