Christmas is often perceived as a time filled with joy and relaxation. Precious time to spend with our family… although, with that comes a healthy portion of tension followed by a side of stress. So, I’ve compiled some top tips from clients to help you navigate the festive season.

1. Boundaries

Christmas is a time that we all want to spend TOGETHER, there can be a huge pressure to be TOGETHER… all the time! Discussing ahead of time if your child is easily overwhelmed by being around others and if they need time out to be alone. Perhaps deciding on a code word or texting an emoji to communicate if they need 20 minutes in their room for alone time. Having clear boundaries allows children to relax and enjoy the time with family rather than feeling forced and trapped – emotions which often cause anxiety.

2. Food

With Christmas being a holiday centred around food, this can be a very anxious time for many. Whether your child has a diagnosed eating disorder or not, a large portion of young people feel judged when eating in front of others. Making a conscious effort to avoid conversation around weight gain/loss, asking children to eat more or less, or commenting on food choices. If you are worried about a young person’s eating habits, make sure this is a private and supportive conversation rather than being addressed in front of the whole family.

“Allow your child to feel whatever they feel, accept that and offer compassion.”

3. Validation

The most common frustration from clients is when their feelings aren’t validated. Often, parents can struggle to understand why their child feels the way they do. Especially around Christmas, a time where we are ‘meant’ to be happy. Perhaps, they have everything they need materially in order to be happy but, for some reason they are struggling and we need to validate that rather than deny it. Denial of emotions can sound like “But you are so lucky, I don’t understand why you feel sad” or “You were fine two minutes ago, so you can’t be that anxious”. Allowing your child to feel whatever they feel, accepting that and offering compassion for their situation can diffuse their emotions. You don’t have to know or understand why they feel that way, or fix anything. This could sound like “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way, is there any way I can support you with this?”

4. Hard Conversations

If something needs to be discussed that is sensitive or may cause upset, it’s important to create the right atmosphere to communicate. A good time to tackle these discussions is whilst you are already engaging in an activity (i.e. cooking, driving). This way it feels less intense, compared to being told “we need to talk”. Being aware of tone of voice and phrasing is crucial, for example: Instead of “You keep on upsetting mum when you are on your phone all the time” it could be “I’ve noticed you’ve been on your phone a lot, is everything okay with you at the moment?”. This creates discussion rather than defensiveness. A great question to ask if the discussion becomes heated is “I’m wondering what you heard me say just then?”, sometimes children read between the lines and take words out of context. For example “Why are you on your phone?” Could sound like “Why are you not good enough?”. Having insight into what they are hearing can help you clarify your intention.

5. Listening vs Advice

So often young people just want to be listened too. And this can be hard when your child is struggling. It’s easy to jump into ‘fix it’ mode and offer solutions when actually, they just want to get some feelings off their chest. Allowing time for children to be with those tough emotions, without ushering them into ‘doing’ can feel counterproductive but it is vital for their mental health. After all we are human BEINGs not human DOINGS. If your child begins to open up to you over Christmas, a great question to start with the discussion is “Do you just want to offload, or would you like some advice?” This gives the young person some agency and you an understanding of what they need, leaving the child feeling heard and understood and parents less frustrated when children aren’t listening to their advice.

It’s important to acknowledge here that you are human, you will snap, you will make comments that cause upset. But, what young people value most is witnessing their parents apologise, owning up to their humanness – role modelling accountability and responsibility. Ruptures in relationships are inevitable, it’s how we repair these ruptures that makes all the difference! I hope you find these tips helpful, and they allow for the festive season to run smoothly.