We couldn’t help but laugh our sock off this week when Youth Fairy Lisa shared what her daughter, very seriously announced:
“It’s actually illegal to put Christmas decorations up before 1st December”
She would not be swayed by this view either “It is ACTUALLY illegal!”
With that in mind, as it’s the first day of December, it feels that we are probably safe to use the “C” word without being arrested.
Amongst our Fairies, we have some who have already carried out some illegal activities – decorations are up, presents wrapped and others who haven’t started buying yet.
The consensus amongst us is that with the joy that Christmas brings, there are also some challenges to remaining “merry and bright” through the Christmas prep (especially for us parents who seem to have so much more to do).
It’s such a fun time for our children – Nativity Plays, Christmas Fayre, School Party, School Christmas Card Post box… the fun list goes on doesn’t it…make costumes (or buy them!), send in tombola prizes and bake cakes for the cake stall, write 30+ Christmas Cards… It’s a busy time for all.
We get tired.
They get tired.
And it begins to look a lot like Christmas.
As this inevitable busy season begins with the dawning of December what can we do to help our children (and us) enjoy the extra challenges that come with the fun?
For some of our children they are already dealing with feelings of overwhelm and anxiety and the demands of Christmas activities and the expectations to join in and have fun can add to these. And it can be a challenge for parents too….
Youth Fairy Sian Opens Up:
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE Christmas – the songs, the streets lined with sparkly, twinkly lights as you take the dog for a walk in the evening and the squeals of excitement each day when the kids get to open another door on their advent calendar.
But with it comes with a LOT of change to my routine. I have my term time set up just as I like it – a great work, life and self care balance. However, an extended holiday like the Christmas break can, as with a number of the children I work with, feel a bit of a challenge when this is turned on it’s head.
Let me explain (before you think I sound like the Christmas Grinch)…..
- Firstly I take a whole 2 weeks off to spend as much quality time with the family as possible. As much as I look forward to this – I also love my work SO MUCH and get a huge amount joy and feel good chemicals from doing it – it can be hard to want to park it completely for such a long period of time. I miss it and the multiple positive interactions with others.
- The daily and weekly structure that my current work/life schedule provides me with (I’m a big lover of routine) is gone, plus the run up to prepare for that involves a lot of extra pressure to wrap things up so I can switch off.
- Because we don’t have family near us we tend to go away and stay with the Kid’s grandparents. This means a completely new environment without the little things that help to keep my stress bucket well managed – quiet moments when the kids are at school, my comfy mattress, having the heating on as much as I like without being told to “Wear another jumper if you’re cold.” ????
- Finally – add to that the overload of ‘junk food’ that tends to accompany the Christmas holidays and I sometimes feel at the end of it all I need a holiday FROM the holiday!
This year however, I’ve been super solution focused and am taking a prevention NOT intervention approach to Christmas.
- I’ve written a list and identified lots of the different elements that contribute to me feeling calm and coping well on a normal weekly basis and worked out how I can still include a number of these within the holiday despite the change of environment and routine.
- Things like my Monday morning cup of tea and walk along the beach. Having my favourite dinner on a Tuesday and Thursday night. Going for lunch on a Wednesday afternoon with my Hubby. My comfy mattress. My list goes on.
- Now I might not be able to bring my mattress up north but I can take my pillow (sorry Grandma Hughes – I’m fessing up – I can’t sleep on your memory foam ones – they crick my neck!). And there’s no beach in Northamptonshire but there is a nice lake a few miles from my Mum’s house I can visit for a stroll.
- I’ve planned in 2 days over the break to do nothing – well, apart from binge watch Judge Judy! Hubby will take the kids to see their cousins (who they adore so won’t miss me for a second) and I’m going to just chill with my Mum and watch repeats of Homes Under The Hammer, Bargain Hunt and anything else I fancy. Everyone’s a winner!
- I’ve already put my order in to both Grandma’s for Salmon, baked potatoes and mixed veggies twice a a week – so I know I can keep some of that health goodness going.
By taking a step back and self reflecting in advance and looking at what small things I need to put in place that are essential for MY wellbeing – I’m not being selfish or Grinchy – I’m actually being SUPER SELFLESS. By ensuring my needs as an individual are met as much as possible it’s going to mean I have more energy to focus on all the wonderful things I’m going to gain by taking that holiday and being truly present with my family.
PARENTS CONSIDER: What small tweaks, changes or elements of your usual routine can you plan into your break to make sure it’s the potatoes simmering, not your stress bucket! And it’s the Christmas cheer flowing not the tears!?
We’ve also put together some top Tips for December which we hope will help you and your children to enjoy the lead up to Christmas feeling calmer and more in control.
Let’s start with a controversial one – we have a choice (that’s you and your children).
It is okay to say “No”
There are so many expectations at Christmas. Not every child wants to be the Innkeeper or Mary, some want to sing quietly (or even pretend to) on the back row. Just as not every parent wants to go to the PCC Wine and Cheese night. So, we can support our children in saying no thank you.
- No, I don’t want a speaking part in the school play
- No, I don’t want to write 30 Christmas cards because ALL the other children in the class are (and it’s very likely they aren’t)
- No, I don’t want to meet Father Christmas up close!
- (And if you want to you too can say No) No, thank you, I don’t want to take a turn running the tombola stall!
Christmas will not be ruined if we do one less thing (or even two, or three).
If your child is not keen to be involved in an activity at school, you can chat about what they feel uncomfortable about and whether this is an area that you can support them in achieving or support them in saying no. In this conversation you can identify the type of stress your child might be experiencing around this expectation.
Challenge or Threat
There are two types of stress; for some children they are keen to be involved in the school play – they may experience some CHALLENGE stress (this is likely to feel like nervous but excited butterflies) and their brains will fire off just the right amount of cortisol for this stress, which helps them to overcome any nerves and enjoy the experience.
But there are also other children where this expectation can tip them into THREAT stress – their system is then flooded with cortisol and those nervous butterflies turn into anxiety.
With a child who experiences this type of threat stress response, you can discuss with them taking small steps to increase their confidence. Perhaps they might choose to put their hand up to answer a question or to read a small section of text out loud. Not every child wants to be on stage (as much as we, as parents love to see them). So we can support them in finding their boundaries and increasing their confidence within these boundaries.
Make a list (a fun one)
We know you’ve already got plenty of lists going to get you through Christmas but this one is different. The children we work with create a list of fun activities to do together with their families (with parents’ agreement). The list is numbered and then a random number generator app is used to select an activity to enjoy together as a family.
You could create this list together and you can set rules that work for you.
Our Fairy Rules include it can’t be expensive (no ROBUX!) and common ideas around this time of year include:
- Doing an act of service (see our 10th November blog The Benefits of Kindness)
- Watching a Christmas movie
- Making a Christmas dance video
- Going for a walk
- Competitions to make the best hot chocolate
When we have fun together, we are embarking on one of our 3Ps (Positive Interactions, Positive Thoughts and Positive Action) – these help to increase our serotonin levels which is one of the feel-good neurotransmitters, which in turn will help us feel calmer and more in control and better equipped to cope better with the extra demands of Christmas.
Sleep – getting enough is one of the best ways we can improve our mood and ability to cope with the day ahead. The dream part of our sleep helps us to empty our stress bucket. It might be hard to convince our children, especially our teenagers, of the importance of a good nights’ sleep but if we don’t get enough sleep, we don’t get to empty the stress bucket and we accumulate more stress.
In addition, we may need to help our children to wind down before bedtime. The additional Christmas activities can leave our children finding it more difficult to regulate their emotions, in amongst all the excitement plan in some time to relax and be still, perhaps do some Christmas crafts.
- Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the nights drawing in (if you can) to snuggle down with a duvet read to watch a Christmas movie and then read together (or encourage them to read themselves if they are older and able).
- Try to keep tech time limited at night time – it’s easy to let boundaries slip during an extended break. Turn off devices at least an hour before bed as these stimulate the brain & the light from the screen stops the production of our sleepy chemical “melatonin”. Try to get them to do something calming in that hour like reading or something they find relaxing.
- If you are a Youth Fairy family, don’t forget to make use of the relaxation bedtime audio.
A Final Tip
Lead by example, be kind to yourself! get enough sleep, give yourself permission to say no, and create a fun list just for you – yours might include, a bubble bath, an early night with a good book – or, in Youth Fairy Sian’s world a Judge Judy marathon!
We love Youth Fairy Katie’s response when asked what her favourite part of Christmas was.
“For me, it’s Christmas Eve. I take a deep breath – it’s my favourite day, once we get to that day, it’s all done and there’s nothing more I can do except enjoy my family.”
Don’t forget to come back next week for our second Christmas blog “Donkeys, angels and carollers – how to help your stars sparkle”.
If you would like help in supporting your children to improve their sleep, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free relaxation audio. To find access all our blogs and for details of The Youth Fairy programmes go to www.theyouthfairy.com.