childstress in schools

We think of Christmas as always a happy time for children, but sometimes it can be stressful too. Parents are under pressure to get everything ready in time, shops, billboards, television and text messages are telling us to get the perfect gift for our families, and we might start worrying that the whole thing is going to be disappointing.

For some children, Christmas is sad because they are remembering special people or animals who aren't around this just doesn't feel the same without them.

Here are some ideas for parents and children to avoid getting wound up by Christmas, and to make it a calmer, happier time for everyone.

Losing the routine of school

- this sounds odd, but children actually like the regular routine of school - it helps you to know where you are every day, It can be hard at first making the change to having no daily plan, and not seeing your friends.

Parents: Prepare suggestions of "things to do today" for the first few days after breaking up. Offer a timetable to the kids with mixed "useful" tasks and "fun" tasks e.g. in the morning - sort out toy box/videos, in the afternoon go swimming/go over to a friend's house.

Kids: Make sure you have phone numbers of your friends you'll want to see in the holidays. Write down a list of things you need to do, and fun ideas you'd like to do.

Christmas events and visitors

- although it might feel exciting to have loads of parties and visitors, children can feel unsettled by having their home space invaded. Sometimes parties and visitors mean late nights and too many crisps! Result: tired and grizzly children!

Draw up a "mini-calendar" (get the kids to help you!) showing the week either side of Christmas - write or draw in, the days when family or friends are coming and any special activities. When planning, try to make a space in between excitements for recovery time.

Kids: Find a space in your house you can go if you feel fed up with other people. It could be your room or somewhere different, like the garden shed (where you can talk to the dog) or even a den you make yourself.

Think of things to do that you know calm you down - maybe watching a video or having a bath. Do that when you feel stressed.

Party Food and Fizzy Drinks

- we all think of Christmas as a time to indulge, but extra sweets and fizzy drinks can make children feel hyperactive and sick.

Parents: Decide now where you are going to keep the chocolates and sweetie presents. Hand them out in small packages. Get the kids to think about having some and saving some for later.

Kids: See how long you can make your sweets last. Try hiding them in your room (where your brother or sister won't find them!) then you'll have a nice surprise later when you've forgotten all about them!

Present - getting Mania

- children can work themselves into a real state, hoping to receive loads of presents or wanting expensive or hard-to-find toys - this can lead to disappointment and make them grumpy and miserable.

Parents: Suggest that children make "wish-lists" for now and the coming year so they can hope for things for this Christmas and for next birthday too.
Warn them early, if you can't provide something they have set their hearts on. Try to focus on Christmas being about having fun together and enjoying buying and giving other people gifts and cards too. On Christmas Day, hold back one or two small presents to open in the following days.

Kids: Think of presents you would like that are big and small. That means at least your Mum or maybe Santa Claus will have a chance to give you something you really like. (Maybe look in a catalogue for ideas)

Be an individual - just because a few kids at school have got something, doesn't mean you have to have it too. In a month or two, the latest craze toy could be forgotten and out of date.

Families together - Families apart

- television and advertising suggest that we should all have an ideal family Christmas - life just isn't like that. Children, like adults may be feeling sad about newly separated parents, or still sad about family break-ups that happened years ago.

Parents: Think about who the children will and won't be seeing over Christmas. Let them talk about who they miss and hear their wishes and disappointments - even if you hoped they would be over it by now.
Above all, let this be a time when you put grievances with ex-partners aside.

Kids: It's Ok to feel sad if you're thinking about someone you love who isn't there this Christmas. It's even Ok to have a cry if you need to. You could send a card to say that you miss the special person - this works even if they have gone to heaven.

If your parents are separated, you might get two Christmases - that's something!

Grownups Wind You Up

Adults sometimes make Christmas time worse by what they say. Two of the main stress factors are:

1) Loading the children with their own pressure and stress e.g. saying "You kids have it easy! I've got so much to do!" This can end up with tired, crabby parents shouting at the children.
2) Threatening to withdraw presents because of the children's behaviour.

Parents: Aim to have an enjoyable Christmas - not a perfect one. When you get home after battling with crowds in town, go into the bathroom for two minutes, breathe and tell yourself you're doing your best, and that's fine. Think of January 2003 - it' will all be over! Then make a cup of tea...!

Don't use presents as rewards for good behaviour - or take them away because children are behaving badly. Real gifts aren't dependent on good behaviour, whatever St Nicholas used to say! We receive because of love, whatever we're like - isn't that the message of Christmas anyway? (For sanctions, use time-out or withdrawal of TV time).

Kids: Be aware that your mum might be quite hassled right now. Just because you're bored and your sister is annoying you, this is not a good time to go on and on about how rubbish the holidays are.
Offer to make her a cup of tea, and give her a hug.

Try to avoid situations that you know lead to trouble - these are usually when you are bored or tired or stressed. Take a look at the BEAT stress tips, and fill in the questionnaire on this site!

And finally, everyone at CHILDSTRESS wishes you a fun and stress-free holiday and a happy year ahead!