How to Survive the Christmas Holidays with Youngsters

We all know that the Christmas holidays are supposed to be an exciting time for families to get together and celebrate. Whether you are religious or not – you can enjoy a festive time of eating, drinking, and being merry! But for some families, the Christmas holidays can be extremely stressful.

The kids break up from school for two weeks, working mums and dads will have a few days off, and there will be a break from the normal routine. Some families go abroad for the Christmas period, either to visit family or simply just to go “somewhere different” (hot, with a glorious sandy beach!!)

So, many families will be facing long airport waits, long car rides, loads of traffic jams etc etc and- when you get there the children may be faced with big sloppy kisses from a relative they hardly know and a huge hug which will throw them into complete meltdown!

The child will be expected to be on his best behaviour, watch his P’s and Q’s and eat all his vegetables!!!

Aaaaagggghhhhh… This will be many children’s worst nightmare! So how can we help an anxious child, or a child on the autistic spectrum to survive?

Rules and boundaries regarding behaviour

Your children have hopefully been brought up with a few rules and boundaries on how to behave at home but… in the excitement of Christmas, and being in a relatives’ home – these rules and boundaries may just get a little be lost. It’s a really good idea to have a family conversation BEFORE you actually leave your house, to discuss behaviour – what is and what isn’t acceptable, manners, and if they are in doubt – not to be afraid to ask the host/hostess of the house for example “ Grandma, is it OK if I put the TV on?” instead of grabbing the remote and helping yourself! That sort of thing.

Prepare your relatives and Friends

Sometimes it’s a good idea to prepare the people you are going to be staying with – especially if there are any sensitive issues, such as mentioning a teenagers weight when she helps herself to seconds (if she has an issue with her weight) or- if you have a child who has selective eating disorder or is a fussy eater, and you know that some bright spark at the table is going to say “Let him live with me for a week and I’ll soon get him eating!” Then it’s best to smooth these issues out beforehand so they don’t become a problem over Christmas lunch!

Plan a “quiet place or chill out space”

If your child is quite shy, or anxious and becomes overwhelmed easily with lots of people and noise, ask your host if there is a room or a space in the house where little Johnny can go and sit quietly for a while.

Family gatherings can be noisy affairs, people haven’t seen each other for a year – they get excited and shout and fling their arms around people for hugs – we need to get a balance around being social with our friends and family but also knowing that if you should feel overwhelmed, anxious or just a bit emotional , that there’s somewhere you can go and just chill out for a while.

Keeping kids occupied

Remember that all through the year (well most of it) your child has quite a structured life. His days are planned out with school, after school activities and children do actually miss this structure when its not in place. If you are going on a long car journey make sure that you take plenty of activities for your child/children to do  ( not just one or two as they will be done by the time you even get on the motorway!)

Plan for breaks even if the journey isn’t that long – say every 40 minutes even if its just a quick five minute break to allow the child to stretch his legs and get a few breaths of fresh air, you wouldn’t believe what a difference this will make to the rest of your journey.

Prepare your child

If you have a child who is anxious, or struggles socially, do prepare him/her beforehand. Let him sit next to you at the dinner table and just talk to familiar people – others will understand. If you have a child who throws a tantrum when she doesn’t win a game or doesn’t like to share with other children, encourage her to play nicely with her cousins, or friends, and get her to come and find you if she starts to get upset about something.

Let your child know that sometimes, even as adults we don’t get on with everyone and sometimes, we just have to grin and bear it for that one day. Be careful what you say though – I do remember years ago saying something like “Oh my God I’ve got to sit through boxing day lunch with that awful cousin of mine she thinks she’s the queen Bee!” I said this in front of my daughter and when we were having boxing day lunch she came out with “Mummy- which cousin is it, that you said thinks she’s the queen bee?”  Can you imagine – I just wanted the floor to swallow me up! Hahaha  So just explain that sometimes we, even as adults have to put up with characters who perhaps we wouldn’t CHOOSE to have lunch with!

What’s on the Christmas menu?

If you have a child who is a picky eater or suffers with sensory processing disorder or selective eating disorder – Christmas away from home can be a nightmare but it doesn’t have to be!

Talk to your host and explain that little Johnny will only eat such and such and if necessary, you will bring his food with you. That takes any anxiety away from that situation. Exploring new foods is good for all children but not at the expense of upsetting them and making them more anxious than they already will be!

Summing up!

So, to sum up: If you are going away over the Christmas holidays –

  1. Prepare your child – tell him what is expected of him behaviour wise. Tell him to come to you if he is anxious or upset.
  2. Prepare your host – especially if there are food issues, or if your child is particularly anxious about something ask if there’s a convenient chill out place for him if he gets overwhelmed.
  3. Prepare for your journey – games and activities, food and plenty of water with plenty of short breaks.
  4. And the most important thing is for the parents to be calm and relaxed – because if you are both happy and relaxed – you’ll have happy and relaxed kids!

Have a great time!

If you need advice on this subject or any other children’s issues – please contact me at:

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