Childcare and Parenting
Keeping the family sane at Christmas..!
Dreading keeping everyone happy at Christmas, including yourself? Penny Palmano, author of 'Yes, Please. Thanks!' and 'Yes, Please. Whatever!' gives us her advice on how to keep everyone under control during the festivities..
Christmas, as we know, can be a very stressful time, what with bickering relatives, over-eating, over-spending and generally over-indulging. Throw into that melting pot over-excited, over tired children (your own and other peoples) and you may well feel like telling the children that Santa has sadly suffered a massive heart attack and Christmas has been cancelled.
Although you will be spending more time with your children it is still important to remember to spend positive time with them, otherwise Christmas can pass in a whirl of entertaining, cooking and looking after adult relatives and friends leaving parentís bewildered why their children are still acting up or Ďbeing naughtyí when they have just received every gift they had ever wanted. Remember, they need some one-to-one attention. Choose to play games rather than watch TV or DVDís, which we all know is easier, but not nearly as much fun. Even young children love Charades, but keep the titles easy, letís face it The Shawshank Redemption is a toughie for anyone!
The week before Christmas
During the lead-up to Christmas get the children to help with the preparations, Children as young as three can help cut out pastry shapes. If you donít want to actually make the pastry, buy fresh or frozen ready-to-roll, it couldnít be simpler.
Ask (if necessary, insist) your children to help you with making up beds, polishing, hoovering, flower and Christmas decorations. If they do a good job surprise them with a bonus of a few pounds towards Christmas presents. But donít be bribed. ďIíll help if you give me £5Ē, is a non-starter, Christmas is for everyone and everyone can muck-in and help. You can always cajole them with something like, ďIf we all get the work done this morning, Iíll get a DVD/video and we can all sit down and watch it this afternoonĒ. This way you get a break as well.
To encourage them to tidy their rooms, offer to help and give them some decorations or fairy lights to put up when itís done. Sort out with them which clothes they will wear over the Christmas period, and put them separately, so they donít have to pull out and try every garment they own, leaving them scattered over the floor.
Even teenagers can help, they can help by wrapping presents, sorting out cutlery, crockery and glasses, bear in mind, they are more likely to help if they can do their jobs in front of the TV! Also get all the children involved with cooking and baking
which despite initial moaning (the teenagers, not you) everyone will actually enjoy: mince pies, sausage rolls, icing the Christmas cake, etc (especially easy with ready-made marzipan and icing).
Young children can receive so many presents it can all get a bit much for them and they start unwrapping in a complete frenzy without actually looking at what they have got. All those weeks of finding the right presents and hours wrapping them up and within seemingly seconds itís all over until next year and the children are left with a feeling of anti-climax, which can lead to whining and tantrums. Amazing, all those presents and theyíre asking if there are any more to open!
So firstly, stagger the presents, this does not mean buy extra, just spread out what you have bought, one present Christmas Eve, then obviously Christmas Day, but keep one back for Boxing Day evening and one for New Yearís Day. By spinning the magic out over a few days, the children have something to open on several days, when they are more likely to actually see what it is and play with it.
When the children are in their pyjamas, pour yourself and your partner a glass of sherry or champagne and as a family sit around the Christmas tree. Allow each child one present to open, (if there are gifts from relatives or friends who will be there on Christmas Day then leave those aside). You may wish to actually give them a present rather than let them choose so that you can engineer what type of gift it is. For example, you donít want them opening a build-your-own 2,000 piece matchstick model of the Titanic which they will immediately want to build, or a video which they will want to watch then and there.
If the gift is from someone who the children will not see over Christmas, make a note (mental or otherwise) of what it is and from whom (for the thank you letters). Take an interest in what they have been given and spend the time helping them build it or play with it or talk about it with them.
I know this may seem crazy but when they are in bed, explain that in the morning they must bring their sacks into your room and they can open them on your bed. This you will enjoy (apart from the early start) as you will see how excited they are and how thrilled they are to receive some of the things they asked Santa for. I know so many families who let their children open their sacks in their own room and therefore miss out on this magical time.
Problems that may arise
Donít forget that children of all ages find it difficult to get to sleep on Christmas Eve and are up early on Christmas Day, so inevitably they are going to be over-tired Christmas morning. So, if possible, an hour or two before lunch put on their favourite or new video and let them snuggle up under their duvet and pillow and they might just drop off to sleep and catch up on some shut-eye before lunch. If you know your child needs half an hour to become civil and human after being woken up, make sure you allow this time before sitting them down to Christmas lunch.
Problem: You have children coming over for Christmas lunch to your house whose table manners and behaviour will ruin your day.
Your best bet is to take the children aside just before you sit down to lunch and tell them exactly how you expect them to behave. If they usually jump on the furniture, tell them you donít want them to. Be realistic if they canít hold a knife and fork properly there is little you can do but if they like to shout or keep getting up from the table, or eat with their fingers when they can use a knife and fork, then you are in with a chance of curbing it temporarily.
Explain that if they behave the way in which you ask there will be an extra little present for them (in fact, always keep some extra little presents or chocolates around for bribery and unexpected guests). Try and remember to praise them at the table if they are trying to obey your wishes.
Problem: Your child receives a gift and without opening it or saying thank you, throws it across the floor and runs off.
Although this type of behaviour is usually caused by over-excitement or over-tiredness, you really shouldnít let children get away with it. Immediately go and get your child and with a firm word explain that they will not throw presents on the floor and they will say thank you. Make them pick up the gift and go to the benefactor and insist they look them in the eyes and say thank you.
Take the present away for them to open at a later time when they have calmed down, they will then have to write to thank when they know what it is and apologise. If they refuse to say thank you take them into a quiet room and explain that they will stay in the room away from everyone else until they decide to. Once they know you mean business most children will agree to your wishes within a few minutes.
You give a gift to a child and they snatch it, throw it on the floor and run off without saying thank you. The parent looks embarrassed/mortified and says their child is over-tired and/or over-excited but does nothing.
With great charm and without making the parent feel awkward, simply pick the present up yourself and say that you will give it to the child later when he is less excited.
Problem: Your own children getting over-excited, over-tired and over emotional in your or someone elseís house. This can manifest itself in uncharacteristic ways, suddenly jumping on furniture, fighting over a toy to play with or talking back rudely to you or another adult (well, we hope these are out of character).
Take them aside into a quiet room with no nosey siblings or other children and tell them what they did was unacceptable (and explain what they actually did), they may just need a few minutes alone with you having a quiet cuddle to settle them. If they are rude to you they must apologise and if they had been rude to anyone else, tell them that you will go with them but they must go and apologise. When they are ready, take their hand, immediately take them to the person to apologise and then tell them to go and join in the fun.
Invariably at Christmas wherever you are there seems to be an abundance of fizzy drinks and suger-laden foods available. If you know these foods will make your child hyper explain to your children before you go, that these products do not agree with them and they must not eat them. Tell them to eat the savoury snacks instead. When you get to the party, check yourself if there is an alternative to a fizzy drink and if not ask the hostess for a jug of water or orange juice.
At the end of the day it is Christmas, children do get over-excited and over-tired (as do some adults!), so do make allowances and donít let someone elseís child ruin your day.
Whatever your views or religion, if you are going to celebrate Christmas you should explain to your children exactly why it is celebrated and why we exchange presents. Even if you are not a regular church goer, young children often enjoy watching a crib service at your local church. Explain to them before you enter that there will be no running around or climbing or standing on the pews and they must remain quiet unless they are singing or joining in the prayers.
And finally, how about asking your children to really get into the spirit of Christmas by sorting out some of their old toys, cleaning them up and taking them to the local hospital or childrenís home.
I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas!
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Penny Palmano(above), is author or the hit titles 'Yes, Please. Thanks!' and 'Yes, Please. Whatever!'. The books are parenting titles on how to get the best manners and behaviour from younger children and teenagers alike.
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