I admit it. I’m a recovering Scrooge.
From the time Santa stopped filling my stocking, the festive meant:
– Battling through hot, overcrowded shops while stressed-to-the-max trying to find perfect Christmas presents
– Having to stay up late making small talk at parties, instead of relaxing at home in my pjs
and, after becoming a parent:
– Negotiating the minefield that is:
Sensitive kids + Over-stimulation + Extended family
These days, I’m pleased to say, I feel much more positive about the festive season. (Hurray!)
As with so many other aspects of life:
Understanding how my kids and I are wired means I can plan ahead – not just to survive, but to actually enjoy Christmas.
My 5 point plan for enjoying Christmas with an overexcitable family
1. Build up your baseline before Christmas
I used to wear myself out trying to do everything in the run-up to Christmas. Shopping, parties, crafts, baking…
These days I’m more intentional about what I say yes to.
If you and your kids enjoy doing crafts, baking and going to Carol concerts and parties – go ahead. Just don’t think you have to do it all.
For me December is about creating a soothing, cosy home. It’s a time to light candles, to uncork the cinnamon and frankincense aromatherapy oils, and to snuggle up under fluffy blankets.
2. Simplify shopping
It’s fun to give presents other people will enjoy, but I used to tie myself up in knots overthinking gifts and worrying whether people would like them.
Remember – people enjoy gifts given with love, so the better you feel when you’re choosing a gift, the more likely they are to appreciate it.
– If making home-made bath bombs and peppermint creams with your kids is fun for you, give people those.
– If you love books, take pleasure in choosing a books for everyone. Check out My Little Poppies’ booklists for inspiration. Most of my nephews and godchildren will be receiving something from her 10+ Picture Books for Gifted Children this year, or a copy of Sue Elvis’s The Angels of Gum Tree Road.
– For my own children, Christmas is a chance to stock up on sensory toys, craft materials and (for my teenaged daughter) pretty toiletries, and also to add to our collection of good quality toys like Lego and Geomag.
– I love taking photos, so for family I make personalised photo books and calendars. It takes me months to put these together, but I enjoy looking over our shared memories, and I can do it from the comfort of my sofa. (I use photobox.co.uk.)
3. Plan ahead for Christmas Day
Many of us feel constrained by other people’s expectations about where we should spend Christmas. Of course we want to show our love for older family members, but let’s also be mindful of our children’s needs.
That might mean inviting family to spend Christmas with you instead of you travelling, or staying away for a shorter period, or asking some of your guests to stay in local guesthouses instead of in your home. I’ve done all three over the past few years.
People often assume that children will be happy to share their bedrooms with young visitors, but for many sensitive children, having a space of their own to withdraw to when the rest of the house is full of noisy guests is essential. No one has minded when I explain my children’s needs, and we’ve all had a happier time together because my kids have been able to stay regulated.
If you do spend Christmas away from home, speak with your hosts ahead of time about your child’s needs. Ask if there’s a quiet space your child can retreat to, to recover from over-stimulation. By doing so you’ll not only have a practical plan, but your hosts won’t think you rude if you and your child need to take a quiet time-out.
Similarly, make a plan with your kids. Tell them about the quiet space. Pack their favourite drinks, snacks, teddy, small toy or puzzle, audiobook with headphones, or earplugs – whatever your child needs to get regulated.
5. Prioritise your kids’ needs on Christmas Day
Christmas Day itself is a potent cocktail of overwhelm, both for us and our children. Think about what happens when you add together:
– Over-stimulated, hyper-sensitive kids
– Extra noise, extra people
– Unusual food served at irregular times
– Triggering food and drink (sugar for the kids, alcohol for the adults)
– Pressure (to have fun, to be grateful, to be polite, to be a good loser at games, to have perfect kids, to hug random relatives, to be seen to be a good parent…)
– Exhausted, stressed out parents
… and then you add a handful of overexcitabilities to that mix!
My 3-step-plan to avoiding Christmas Day meltdown
(1) Do whatever it takes to stay regulated yourself. For me this includes taking plenty of breathers away from the noise and stress.
(2) Keep an eye on your child. If you sense him becoming overwhelmed, gently suggest some quiet time.
(3) If meltdown happens, stay calm – and stay true to your parenting values.
Don’t let disapproving onlookers trigger you into being the kind of parent they think you should be, instead of the parent your child needs.
You’ve spent years figuring out how your child is wired and how to help him be his best. Don’t second guess yourself trying to live up to someone else’s idea of what a ‘good parent’ looks like.
Finally – whatever happens (and however many meltdowns slip through your best laid plans) congratulate yourself on doing your best!
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I’ll be back after Christmas with part 3 of my series on how to use your overexcitabilities to nourish your soul. To get that post direct to your inbox, just leave your email address in the box at the top right or bottom of the page. You can also find Laugh, Love, Learn on Facebook.