Make Christmas calmer with young kids

Christmas: The most wonderful time of the year…or so we are led to believe. As parents of little ones, whether through birth or adoption, we know this is not always the case. There are a number of things that can accumulate to make Christmas the most stressful time of the year. But, there is hope. If you are looking for ways to make Christmas calmer with young kids, then look no further!

If you’re looking for specific advice on making Christmas parties less stressful, then check out this piece I wrote for Adoption UK.

Avoid Christmas Meltdowns. written at the top. Image of mom with kids building a snowman.

Why can Christmas be challenging

Christmas is full of excitement, expectations and memories.

It is very stimulating and engages all the senses. This can be incredibly overwhelming to any child.

The over-stimulation, the uncertainty, and the change of routine can all cause uneasiness. The increase in social commitments, the change of décor, the vast amount of food, and huge number of presents can make any child over-excited.

Sadly, for some care-experienced children, Christmas will also be a huge trigger due to trauma that took place during the Christmas season. This is something they are not always able to verbalise.

If your child has a low sense of self-worth, then they may not feel they deserve gifts. This can make accepting presents hard and it may just look like they are ungrateful.

There is hope

With a 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter who we adopted 4 and 2 years ago respectively, we have discovered a number of ways to keep Christmas (mostly) calm and fun.

I genuinely look forward to Christmas every year, and I enjoy it just as much as my kids do. It really is possible to make Christmas calmer with young kids.

Manage expectations

Firstly, we manage and discuss expectations.

This applies as much for us, and the other adults in our extended family, as it does for our children.

We need to have realistic expectations for our children while they navigate this, often tricky, season.

We put presents under the tree the night before to avoid temptation, and expect an early start and the need for increased co-regulation.

I find I handle things a lot better when I am expecting it.

We spread Christmas out over two days so that we can spend time with both sides of our family.

When our children first joined our family, we spoke with our extended family about the possible difficulties our children may have at Christmas. We told them that we may need to head outside for a bit if our kids were overwhelmed. We warned them that we may leave early if that’s what our kids needed.

Thankfully, we didn’t need to, but its better to be prepared in case so no one is offended or upset at the time.

We spoke with our children in the lead up to Christmas about the plans and they helped to contribute so they were involved and knew what to expect.

They knew who we would see, what we would eat and what the structure of the day looked like.  

This helped them to feel calmer.

Routines and traditions

Another way to make Christmas calmer with young kids is to build in family traditions and stick to some of your normal routines. These help our little ones know what to expect.

We try to avoid late nights.

Our kids have the same bedtime and the same bedtime routine throughout the Christmas holidays.

We are able to stay at home for Christmas so they can sleep in their own beds, in our house on Christmas Eve.

If you go away for Christmas, it can help to go to the same place each year, where they sleep in the same room and it’s a Christmas routine that they are used to.

We try to keep some of our everyday routines the same too. Where possible, we eat at similar times, keep the same behaviour boundaries, and offer TV time before our evening meal as normal.

A bit of normalcy helps our kids feel safe and therefore calmer.

We stick to our Christmas traditions each year so that although some elements of our day are different, they are the same as they were the Christmas before.

This consistency helps our children to feel like the day is still predictable and safe. It is the same every year, we can look back at photos and remember what we do each and every Christmas together.

Presents

Presents are an exciting part of Christmas as a kid, even as an adult sometimes!

We have always spread out the presents over a few days so it is not too overwhelming and pressured.  Our Christmas day itself is spread over two days to allow time with both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

We don’t rush present time and take time to play and open each toy that our children want to play with straight away. The children will often help us open our presents too, and love seeing our faces when we open the present they have chosen for us.

This is part of our Christmas experience and something the kids are used to now.

Having spoken to other parent’s about their Christmas experiences, I know for some children that it can be less stressful to just ‘rip off the plaster’ as it were, and get the presents opened all in one go.

This can help avoid that sense of anticipation and ‘not knowing’ continuing for too long.

Equally, some families find that a quiet Christmas at home with just your little family unit is a lot calmer and more fun, especially in the early days of being a family.

You know your child the best, so go with whatever works for your family.

Sometimes, it’s just trial and error to see what suits best.

Co-regulation

Co-regulation is needed more during the holidays. 

This, of course, requires us to find ways to keep ourselves calm and relaxed, so we can share our calm with our kids.

Reducing the pressure on ourselves makes a huge difference to our kids.

Sharing the meal prep with other family members, getting everything ready so you can relax on Christmas eve and fill up your own self care cup can help.

Then you are more likely to remain the calm, reassuring, safe presence that your little ones need on the day.

I try to make sure I keep a closer eye on my kids, especially during Christmas day.

That way I can be aware of mounting tensions and offer support before it’s too late. If I see them starting to get a bit hyper, I might pull out a new story, or suggest a quick walk up the road to check for snow.

If you need some quick suggestions to help your kid calm down when they get over-excited or stressed, I have found these calm-down ideas very helpful for my kids.

The post is written with adopted children in mind, but the calming activities help most children.

Sensory overload

Looking for ways to lower the sensory load can help everyone feel calmer.

We avoid background music while everyone is talking, and dish up their food onto plates, instead of getting them to self-serve from a huge array of dishes.  

Calm breaks are planned throughout the day. We have times where we watch some TV, or play with lego together, or curl up on the sofa for stories.

Books are a staple present at our house. We give one to both our children first thing in the morning. They often get them out to read during the day when they need to.

Time outside also helps our kids, so we plan a short walk into the day too.

Being over-tired will, we have found, make everyone more reactive to sensory stimulation. If your little one struggles to sleep, check out my 10 top tips to make bedtimes easier for everyone.

I have found that having some calming sensory play ideas to hand during this busy season can really help my kids to regulate their emotions.

If you’re looking for some fun, cheap, and quick sensory activities for Christmas, check out these two posts full of easy ideas!

Christmas Tuff Tray Ideas for Preschoolers : Easy Sensory Play Activities

10+ Christmas Sensory Bins for Preschool Kids and Toddlers

Watch the sugar!

Lastly, one important factor to consider when trying to make Christmas calmer with young kids is sugar.

The amount of sugar (and artificial sweeteners) your child has will usually have a fairly big effect.

It is a complete balancing act for you as the parent. You will likely want to treat your kids, but not send them over the edge in the process!

The amount of sugary treats a child can manage depends on various factors. The time of day (bedtimes always the worst here!), if it’s with a meal or on an empty stomach, the amount, and the individual child, all play a role.

Some children can manage a decent amount of sugar with no bad effects. Unfortunately some children only need to so much as smell it to be bouncing off the walls!

You are the best judge of what your own child can handle.

Take time to find what works

As with all parenting advice you receive, I hope you take this with a pinch of salt.

I am only sharing what works best for our family.

You know your own child the best. These are just ideas to consider.

Every family, just like every child, is different. What works for one child will not always work for another.

I hope some of my suggestions have helped you as you work to make Christmas calmer for your family.

Wishing you a special time this Christmas, and I hope you make treasured memories with your family.

You’ve got this.

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing! I think it is very pertinent to take into consideration the fact of telling the children the plans for the day so that they do not get desperate and know what to expect from the day and be calm.

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